Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pastorela Laughs in the Mirror of 2017 Politics

Posted By on Wed, Dec 13, 2017 at 3:00 PM

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For a 6,000-year old entertainment, The Pastorela sure gets around. It’s performed all over the world every Christmas, perhaps most devotedly and hilariously in Mexico. The satire and personalities change every year, but there’s always a protagonist, shepherds, wise men, angels, Lucifer and Satan. The demons create trials and temptations the protagonist must overcome to assure Jesus’ birth. Two animals traditionally act as a Greek chorus.

A dog and sheep open this year’s Borderlands show by taking a knee; the satire and send ups roll from there, nonstop. Borderlands presents its 21st Pastorela Thursday through Sunday, Dec. 14 through 17, at the Leo Rich Theatre. Visit the Borderlands website for details and reservations.

Writer Milta Ortiz says, “The animals let the audience know it’s going to be a fun show. You can holler and sing along and laugh.” This year’s news, she says, offered almost too much fodder for the show’s political comedy. “It was ‘How do we pick?’,” she says. “I never like to give spoilers,” she says, “but I really didn’t even have to parody some things that happened because they were already funny.”

Our spies tell us, spoilers aside, that Vladimir Putin’s ways with the ladies, his swagger and bravado made excellent Pastorela material, as did the Russian manipulation of “fake news.” Immigration issues continue to provide balloons for Pastorela puncturing. The current show highlights the plight of DACA children – those brought to the U.S. by their parents as children and now under threat of deportation. And, in an epic scene, torn from actual headlines, Donald Trump throws corn and paper towels.

Thankfully, some things never change. Asked who’s performing pre-show warm-up music, Ortiz says, “It's always Gertie and the TO Boys.” They’re the pride of the Tonono O’odham Nation’s, irresistible Waila dance tradition.

This year, Borderlands revamped more than just the Pastorela’s political content, though. Producing director Marc David Pinate also gave it an updated look and a fresher feel. “It’s like when there’s a new cast on Saturday Night Live,” he says. The comparison is apt.

Pinate credits a series of improv workshops he held for the show’s all-new cast over the summer. “I hoped the (players) would get more comfortable with each other, just to have that openness to play like improv does. I told the actors first thing, ‘If you have an idea, just go for it. If it works, we'll put it in the script.’

“The temptation scenes are straight-out comedy sketches.”

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Pecan Needs a Home

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 2:53 PM

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Hi! My name is Pecan!

I am a 1-year-old girl who is waiting to meet the purr-fect home! I am a very friendly girl who will make a great addition to any family. My dream home would have a scratching post and lattice balls for me to play with!

Does it sound like I could be a part of your family? Come to HSSA Main Campus at 3450 N. Kelvin Blvd. to meet me! You can also give an adoptions counselor a call at 520-327-6088, ext. 173 for more information.

Lots of Purrs,
Pecan (851877)

Cinema Clips: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 10:30 AM


In 1843, when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, folks were just getting into that thing we call the holidays, with stuff like Christmas trees and gift giving. Dickens’s novel about a miserable miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who transforms from an evil greed monster to a kind philanthropist throughout its five chapters, helped take the celebration of Christmas to a new level of tradition.

The boldly titled The Man Who Invented Christmas spins an entertaining and clever take on how and why Dickens got the idea for the story that would change the world. Coming off a couple of flops after the success of his Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is doing clumsy book tours to pay the bills. Desperate for a “hit,” he gets an idea for a Christmas book, one in which a greedy man is haunted by ghosts of the past, present and future. The story is meant to be a cautionary yarn about the evils of selfishness, and perhaps less about the joys of Christmas and redemption. As Dickens gets further into his book—and his own psyche—the theme changes to one of hope, and his classic is born.

Director Bharat Nalluri, working from a screenplay by Susan Coyne, based on the book by Les Standiford, gets the unique opportunity to tell the making of A Christmas Carol while, in some ways, making yet another version of the famed story itself. The film features Dickens conferring with the fictional characters in his story as he creates them, so we get an Ebenezer Scrooge, this time played by the great Christopher Plummer.

Of course, he winds up being perfect for the role.

The Latest U.S. International Reading Scores Are Flat

Posted By on Mon, Dec 11, 2017 at 9:21 AM

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A sampling of fourth graders in countries around the world took the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) test in reading in 2016. If you want to see the numbers broken down into all kinds of subunits, here they are. But the bottom line is, U.S. scores are flat. Actually, they dropped back to 2001 levels after going up a few points—not a whole lot, just a few points—on the 2006 and 2011 tests. Twelve countries outperformed us. You can find the top twelve list at the end of the post. Another fifteen differed by a few points, but the difference isn't statistically significant.

So, we're back on the same square we were sitting on when our barrage of high stakes testing began in 2001 with No Child Left Behind. All that testing, all that test prepping, all that time taken away from other subjects, open-ended discussions and the chance for children to be children out on the playground, and we're back on the same square we started on. It's possible the whole Common Core thing brought down the small gains we made from 2001 to 2011, but that's a tough one to assess, especially with such the small upward bump. The important takeaway for me is, testing was supposed to prod teachers to teach better and administrators to administer better, and the differences would show up in the test scores. After fifteen years, that looks like a false promise.

So, do we scale back testing to a more reasonable level—say, take a snapshot at a few grade levels every few years rather than testing every student at every grade every damn year? Sounds like a good idea to me. Unfortunately, it's not likely in the short term. The educational/industrial complex makes all kinds of money from selling tests and materials related to testing, and it's not likely to give up its cash cow without a fight.

The Top Twelve: Here are the top twelve scoring countries, starting from the top and working down: Russian Federation, Singapore, Hong Kong CHN, Ireland, Finland, Poland, Northern Ireland GBR, Norway, Chinese Taipei CHN, England GBR, Latvia, Sweden.

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Cinema Clips: Lady Bird

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 2:00 PM


Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento, California and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with. Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a Sacramento youth with an artistic yearning for the east coast and some distance between her and her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf).

This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story a consistently surprising one. Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart, a theater geek who stinks at math, and an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better. Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester By the Sea and Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is funny and sad as one of Lady Bird’s young love interests, while Odeya Rush is golden as Lady Bird’s best friend, Jenna.

Tracy Letts is perfect as the nice dad dealing with warring factions in the household, while Timothy Chalamet (currently racking up awards for Call Me By Your Name) is perhaps the biggest laugh getter as aloof other love interest, Kyle. This one is a triumph for Ronan and Gerwig, and while it would never happen, I’d love to see a sequel about Lady Bird’s college years.

Laughing Stock: Holly Jolly Edition

Posted By on Fri, Dec 8, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons hosts Arroyo Café Holiday Radio Show at the Rialto Dec. 16. - DAVID FITZSIMMONS
  • David Fitzsimmons
  • Cartoonist David Fitzsimmons hosts Arroyo Café Holiday Radio Show at the Rialto Dec. 16.

Fake News? Fun Tradition!

Cartoonist and comedy impresario David Fitzsimmons reprises his Arroyo Café Holiday Radio Show at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, December 16 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $15 via rialtotheatre.com, in advance or at the door.

It’s become such a popular Old Pueblo tradition that even the POTUS has noticed. Trump went so far as to tweet to organizers that he’s not interested in making an appearance. “Lame. Why drag me into your Christmas spectacular? Sad, really.” Naturally, Fitzsimmons and crew immediately added him to the bill. Fitzsimmons suggests, however, “Trump supporters may want to skip this one. Ho,ho, ho!”

The production has an old-time radio show format, a la Prairie Home Companion, chock-a-block with Tucson celebrities. In addition to Fitzsimmons, the Arroyo Café Players include KVOA’s Lupita Murillo; American Idol contender Crystal Stark; long-time radio announcer Bobby Rich; and comedians Elliot Glicksman, Jay Taylor, Nancy Stanley, Nick Seivert, Josiah Osego, Mike Sterner and Bridgitte Thum. The Grandsons of the Pioneers, comprising members of Reveille Men’s Choir, round out the bill, along with Wilbur Wildcat and the President of the United States, all under the musical direction of soprano soloist and sound designer Lindsey McHugh.

Light Family Fare at Gaslight

Sweet and smooth as the froth on your eggnog, Christmas in the Big Apple is a grand time for any family gathering that includes both the youngest and oldest members. The villainy is paper-thin and the survival of the Santa spirit is never in doubt. Lots of opportunities for interactive play include in simple, repeated lines and hilariously groan-worthy jokes, straight out of the third-grade joke book. Costumes are as spectacular as we’ve come to expect of the Gaslight Theatre. The red dresses in the olio all but stole the show for this scrivener.

Hurry to book this holiday treat as some performances have been sold out since May. Visit thegaslighttheatre.com for details; call for reservations.

Tops and Bottoms at Borderlands Brewery

Ten dollars buys a beer and a show on from 7 to 10 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 10, when Borderlands’ monthly showcase Brew Ha Ha presents The Tops and Bottoms Tour featuring Carmen Morales and Anthony Desamito.

Morales’ has won fans on Punchline, Sirius XM radio, two seasons of Laughs on Fox and multiple festivals. She also co-hosts a New York Times comedy podcast. Desamito has appeared on Laughs on FOX and The Doug Stanhope Podcast. He co-hosts a podcast recapping episode of the Golden Girls, and a monthly show at the Hollywood Improv Lab.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hello, Winter! Tips For Surviving Tonight's Big Chill

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 2:00 PM

It's gonna be a cold one in Tucson tonight....
  • It's gonna be a cold one in Tucson tonight....
Happy winter ladies and gentlemen, as the scorching torrent of summer slams into the muscle-stiffening months of winter.

We'll get our first real taste of winter tonight, with the National Weather Service issuing a Freeze Warning for Tucson, with a low of 34 degrees in Tucson, which puts those who live in the elements in immediate danger.

Luckily, the City of Tucson and several nonprofits have programs in place to assist those who find themselves without a shelter this evening.

The Salvation Army, for example, is officially in Operation Deep Freeze, opening its doors at its Tucson Hospitality House (1002 N. Main Avenue) on any night between now and March 30 when the temperature falls below 35 degrees (or 40 degrees with precipitation).

The organization asks the public to donate items to keep people warm, such as coats, blankets, gloves, socks and sweaters.

Donations are accepted at any Naughton's Plumbing location, Vantage Bowling Center, or at the Hospitality House itself. Anyone with questions about the operation can call the shelter at (520) 795-9671.

Operation Freeze

The Tucson Department of Transportation is undertaking preventative measures on all bridge decks around town, to prevent any ice buildup that could cause trouble.

The operation, which kicks off at 2:30 p.m. today, involves placing "Wet Road Ahead" signs at bridge entrances, in addition to spraying magnesium chloride on bridge decks. A total of 58 bridge decks will be sprayed and monitored by the City, and motorists are advised to be extra vigilant of ice buildup while driving.

Also, remember to cover up all plants, or bring potted ones inside to prevent frost, and check any plumbing you have to ensure pipes are well-insulated from the cold.

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It's Going to Be an Education Election in Arizona

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 1:00 PM

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Since I write about education, I try to see everything written about schools and schooling that pertains to Arizona. (You can too. It's easy! Just create a Google alert: Arizona + Education. You'll have dozens of links emailed to you every day.) So I might be overstating things when I say the major focus of Arizona's 2018 elections will be education, but not by much. Unless Arizona Republicans can distract the white electorate by making them fear everyone who doesn't look like them—Trump figured out how to do it, and I'd say he's just following Arizona's lead—schools are going to play big in the minds of voters. And that gives Democrats an opportunity to close the numbers gap between Democratic and Republican voters and pull out a few narrow wins in close races. Education is a Democrat-friendly issue, especially in a state like Arizona where Republicans have starved the schools for years.

Doug Ducey may talk about education even more than he talks about the economy. He knows he has to get in front of a losing political issue so it doesn't spin out of control. Voters put K-12 education at the top of their list of priorities A majority have said they're willing to spend a few extra bucks to raise the amount we spend on students and teacher salaries. And they know Republicans are responsible for our bottom-of-the-barrel per-student funding.

So what does Ducey do in response? He dubs himself the "education governor" and demonstrates his commitment to our children by sprinkling a little budget money over a few high-profile education programs, then acts like he's Santa Claus. Every time he visits a school, he makes sure the story, accompanied by a picture of him surrounded by children, makes it into the local media. And he's full of promises about all the money schools are going to get in the next budget. He tends to be short on the details of his intended largesse, like how much he plans to spend and where he plans to spend it, but he wants everyone to know he cares. Especially when facts give the lie to his promises.

Ducey was furious recently when a report showed the state's spending on education is down since the recession. Taking a page out of the Trump playbook, Ducey complained it was "a false report by a left-wing public interest group." Except that it's true. Even the governor's press aide Daniel Scarpinato had to admit we're spending less per student than in 2008. Then he quickly added, “We think we’ll be back at 2008 at some point." At some point. No idea when.

Continue reading »

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