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Baltimore Comic Podcaster Brings Kevin Pollak Home

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Actor Kevin Pollak (you know, A Few Good Men; Grumpy Old Men) knows standup — he started practicing at age 10. Famous for his spot-on impressions of intense talkers Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson and William Shatner, Pollak knows “the funny.” And our own funny local friend Geoffrey Welchman of the hilarious Inverse Delirium podcast, well, he happens to know Kevin Pollak. And now you can, too. 

Pollak performs at Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium March 8-10. He recently performed on a new Inverse Delirium podcast, too — you can play the episode right now.

Though he’d never met Pollak, Welchman wrote a sketch with the actor in mind, knowing he was due in town for the standup gig, then emailed Pollak an invitation to participate in the podcast. We asked Welchman for behind-the-sound-scene details.

How’d you entice Pollak to join the cool show you craft in your basement?

He emailed back, which was a thrill, and asked to see the script, which was an even bigger thrill. Luckily I tacked on a second idea at the bottom — about an audition for voice actors, really just a premise. It turned out he liked that better than my script, so I quickly fleshed that second idea out and sent it, and he liked it and agreed to record it. All this took place in few days, and by the end of the week I had his recording in my email.

How long have you followed Pollak’s work?

Like many people, I knew of him first from his movie roles, particularly in two of my favorites, The Usual Suspects and Grumpy Old Men. I didn’t realize he’d started as a standup comic — I only became aware of his incredible impressions from his Christopher Walken bit in the comedian documentary The Aristocrats in 2005, and I began to follow him more closely.

Then a couple years ago, I heard he had started a podcast and I was hooked within the first few shows. He does rapturously long interviews with great comedians and actors (Judd Apatow, Rob Reiner, Laraine Newman, Adam Carolla, etc.). The great thing about his show is he talks to his guests as a peer rather than an interviewer, which seems to enable a relaxed flow, full of great stories.

What has he meant to you as a comic?

I really respect his abiding love for the craft of standup, and his smart-alecky tone. And of course, his impressions… But I have to say he made an even bigger impact as a podcaster. Listening obsessively to his podcast (along with Marc Maron’s and Doug Benson’s) for three months in 2010 inspired me to start my own podcast! So even though I went in a sketch-comedy direction, Kevin is one of my podcast heroes.

Larry David + Dozens of Other Famous People Went to the University of Maryland

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We’ve always thought highly of the University of Maryland at College Park, but now that we know sitcom innovator Larry David’s an alum — he graduated in ’70 with a double major in business and history — we pretty much revere the place. More impressive yet: Life-changing, well-meaning, happy-message-sending Muppets-god Jim Henson graduated from Maryland in ’60! Super fun to read the Sun’s photo tour of famous U. of Maryland alums this afternoon. Oh, television legend David Simon’s on the list, too.

Why is it so exciting to learn that a person you admire attended college at a school near you? Maybe because it makes the broad world seem momentarily smaller, in a very good way, when we understand that giant movers and shakers, who’ve made reality of imaginative possibility, walked the same streets we walk as we daydream tomorrow.

Other Earth-Shattering Terps: Google founder Sergey Brin ’93, broadcast journalist Connie Chung ’69; Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Karen Allen took courses at Maryland for a period. See the story for more striking surprises!

Police Presence Persists on Roland Avenue

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Police presence endured last night in front of Petit Louis — Baltimore City’s frequent ceremonial show of goodwill and safeguarding after a serious crime has occurred — with an empty police Jeep parked at the 4800 block of Roland, lights flashing, and meanwhile the strong-bodied officer/driver standing watch on foot at the corner of Roland and Upland. All in response to the well publicized holdup occurring around 8 p.m. on Wednesday night at this location — civic leader Sally Michel and her 60-something friend, the robbery victims.

Staff at Petit Louis said they had no information about police agenda. Pleasant note: The restaurant was still active, with several customers finishing meals close to 10 p.m. The officer himself explained, “[The police department] will do what it wants to do until the [criminals] are caught.” He said he does not know if he, or any other officer, will be posted to the same spot tonight.

“That guy’s got the easiest gig on the force this evening,” joked my boyfriend, after we agreed that no wrongdoer would aim even to scope that particular section of Roland while a sturdy cop’s standing by. To be sure, it is a nice formal gesture on the city’s part. A comforting one.

No doubt, when an intense incident occurs, like the holdup, or even the recent instance of the car thief’s arrest, residents of an extra sleepy, notoriously safe hood, like Roland Park, are bound to be more stunned than some who live on rowdier Baltimore roads.

Here’s hoping Roland Park swiftly returns to a mild-as-can-be, civilized burg starting yesterday, and that recent crimes deserve rightly to be branded flukes, which seems mighty likely.

Better yet, here’s hoping that all Baltimore residents in all neighborhoods will live in greater peace and harmony in 2012. And cheers to the policemen and women standing outside in the cold, watching over things.

Roland Park Nighttime Arrest: Mystery Solved

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Last Wednesday, we reported observing a mysterious arrest in Roland Park the evening prior, in front of Petit Louis, around 9 p.m. This week, we have confirmed with Detective Jeremy Silbert, a city police spokesman, that the arrested (and bespectacled + bald, I can attest) male, 55, was driving a stolen vehicle through the area. The investigation was conducted at 8:35 p.m. on January 17 — the car apprehended in the 4700 block of Roland Avenue. Silbert said that the Regional Auto-Theft Task Force, with reps from various law enforcement agencies, helped with the investigation. Car was towed upon discovery. I know, we’re all wondering if the man in specs stole a Porsche or a Taurus, but no further information is available at this time. Go here to snag tips on keeping your car safe, from the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

 

Drawing for Passersby: Living Art by Jowita Wyszomirska

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Jowita Wyszomirska, one of Baltimore Fishbowl’s first resident artists, this month installed a new show called Tenuous Connection at the Temporary, the innovative gallery space positioned curbside at MICA’s Student Center, beside Joe Squared at Station North. Address: 113 North Avenue. Jowita makes work daily at her art studio at School 33, where she first began to dream up these incredible, high-concept drawings months ago. To complete the project for the Temporary, she spent eight long days working on public display through picture windows. This space is curated by Hyejung Jang.

Show celebration happens tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 24, 7-9, with back-and-forth art partying between Joe Squared and the unique exhibit, which is on view strictly through windows from outdoors. Take note: Your last day to catch the work is this Friday, January 27.

Jowita’s stunning, large-scale wall drawings feature imaginative sculptural elements; her compositions conjure connections for me of a vast and playful solar system, a strange geometry of floral and architectural structures, a beautiful techno song brought to step-inside-this life. I talked to her about her show and her ongoing creative process.

How does the Temporary’s building structure inform the pieces, or what is the role of the window and the gallery-setting in the show? Did you consider the actual art-making part of the exhibit?

I think the change between the day and night is pretty interesting with the work surfacing when it gets dark. I like the daytime too with all those reflections of the street because I love using layers and there it just happens on its own. Connection #3 was the most improvised piece with almost no plan ahead of time. When I got to it, I started tracing the lines of the sidewalk onto the window and that informed my composition.

[Throughout the installation,] I was completely visible to the street. I thought I would be timid to work in a space where all the passerby traffic could see me; at first I considered blocking the windows with brown paper. But when I started working, I basically didn’t want to waste any time on that and really quickly got used to being on view. People were pretty interested, some even knocked on the windows to give me thumbs up. For several years, I worked in museums building exhibits and I always thought that behind-the-scenes is really fascinating. I think a lot of the people enjoy seeing the process of making things.

How did you first get inspired to create these pieces?

One day in search of liberation from the support (of paper, canvas, etc.), I just started drawing on the wall of my studio and surprisingly worked much faster than I imagined I ever could. This opened up many other possibilities for me. As much as I still enjoy making small drawings, it is plainly so physical and fun to just go straight onto the wall!

Can you describe the journey from studio work to site design to completion?

I like to think that my work is almost site-specific… During the day, the reflections on the windows are so strong that they obscure and dominate over the work in the exhibits in the gallery. I thought I could use that to some degree, so I traced the outlines of the buildings and used that as my main composition in Connection #2. The outcome is still very abstract and I don’t think my strategy is very obvious, but that makes it almost site-specific for me. 

But getting back to the process, for over a month I worked in my studio and used vellum to make a lot of the drawing to then figure out the final layout in the gallery. I think I work best if I prepare ahead of time but leave myself enough room for improvisation when I am installing my work in the actual space. I have been using a lot of masking tape (which originally I tried just to speed up my process and I liked it a lot), markers, paint. I also incorporated LED lights into one of the pieces — I really want to explore that more in the future.
 
How would you define your current vision or your work’s personal meaning right now?

My work is pretty abstract and dictated by my process. I am inspired by architecture and… schematic diagrams. In my current work, I can make a connection back to the time when I was taking organic chemistry and really was in love with the visual aspects of the class but also the content; I loved my notes with drawings of the molecules and compounds. I enjoy making something that can easily shift between micro and macro scales. I guess for this reason it is also good for me to make this physical shift (back and forth) between small drawings and wall drawings.
 

Mysterious Nighttime Arrest in Roland Park

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I’ve lived in some sketchy neighborhoods since I moved to Baltimore nine years ago, and I’m accustomed to hearing police and ambulance sirens wail at all hours. Like most of us, I’m no stranger to the sad scene of a guy (more often, it’s a male in this situation) getting cuffed by cops along the side of the road. But it’s not every day — or ever before tonight — that I’ve witnessed an arrest in my newest place of residence, Roland Park. Roland Park, where most everyone smiles hello on the sidewalks and the illusion of complete safety seems to make even the resident dogs extra friendly. Tonight, at approximately 9, I jogged past Petit Louis and observed a bald fellow in a striped scarf (possibly Burberry) and black plastic art glasses getting cuffed and carted off. Two giant police SUVs hogged the lot, their lights twirling. A call to the restaurant revealed that this man had not stepped inside the eating establishment at any point, but had been spotted “in the neighborhood.” Curious. No further information available just yet, but we’ll follow up as more comes to light.

Sci-Fi Story Contest for Teens: Win Cash/Change the World!

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Attention: Thoughtful young writers between the ages of 14 and 18. Do you have what it takes to write an original, highly imaginative science fiction story that scores cash money? Give it a try! Write it up — keep it under 2,500 words — and submit to the Jack L. Chalker Young Writers’ Contest sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society by March 31st — electronically or by snail mail.

If you’re intrigued but don’t know the science fiction genre all that well, check out anything by Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), or Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), whose works were often adapted into blockbuster films, like Androids which became Blade Runner — and you might consider certain works by literary goddess Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake), who won the first Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novel award in 1987 for “Handmaid.”

Visit the equally geeky and intriguing webpage, Resources for Science Fiction Writers, to absorb 10 reasonable, recommended “Rules of Writing Sci-Fi,” including, “Good science fiction is good science, good science fiction has a sense of wonder, and good science fiction changes the world for the better.”

Jack Laurence Chalker was an award-winning sci-fi author as well as a history teacher in Baltimore City Schools for 12 years. He helped to found the BSFS in 1967. Chalker was best known for his Well World novel series–most of his stories involve the radical physical transformation of the main character. The author died in 2005, and the writing contest was named in his memory beginning in 2006.

Contest judges will be plucked from the membership of BSFS, Inc. Winners will be contacted before the May 25-28 Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, their names announced to the public at the next Balticon on Memorial Day weekend “just before the Masquerade at 8:30 pm.”

Submissions ranked first, second and third will receive cash prizes of $150, $100 and $75, respectively. The three winners also receive complimentary registrations for Balticon for themselves and their parents or one guest each. Underage scribe victors will also receive a free Balticon T-shirt. Convention’s guest of honor this year is prolific American sci-fi writer Jody Lynn Nye.

For complete writing contest rules and guidelines, go here.

For past winners’ stories since 1998, go here

Best of luck, young earthlings!

Resident Artist Tremain Smith: Grids upon Grids Give Way to Spiritual Mystery

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As a child, painting talent Tremain Smith, a Baltimore native and Bryn Mawr alum who now lives in Philadelphia, took Saturday art classes at the BMA. Today, her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as corporate and private collections around the country. We’re pleased to present Tremain as our latest Baltimore Fishbowl resident artist, a dreamy, visionary maker and meditator, who layers abstract shapes dictated by an intuitive geometry, generating planes of glossy and gauzy color and form that make a hidden world momentarily accessible, a place of spirit and of Tremain’s own brand of beauty. Each grid is a ready-made departure point. Her more recent work, pictured right, puts me in strange mind of a psychedelic quilt, sewn by Kandinsky, doubling as a silk magic carpet, or maybe a kaleidoscopic construction site. Whichever metaphor I choose, the images feel happily fresh and challenging.

A seasoned craftsman and instructor in the ancient skill of encaustic painting, also known as hot-wax painting, which involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax, Tremain applies “a mixed-media technique composed of layers of oil glazes, collaged elements and transparent beeswax fused by an open flame or an iron.”

In her larger creative life, Tremain passionately pursues another specialized practice, as quaint and rare as encaustic painting, the close-reading of sacred texts, a ritual she performs daily before entering her studio, for an hour or more. She describes this scholarly and meditative focus as the embrace of certain “systems,” which build upon one another to form a collage-like whole, a result much like her painting style, and definitely informative to her art’s creation.

“These spiritual disciplines deeply impact my life and my art. They include forms of divination — ways of discerning invisible influences,” Tremain explains. “I see painting as a pathway to discovering larger understandings using the elements of line and shape, color and texture. It is a tangible means of getting to the intangible.”

For now, Tremain works with abstract geometric forms as a way to ponder and depict abstract spiritual meaning, symbolic of life force, she says, and endless, intricate possibility.

“This direction began when I saw a geometric diagram made up of circles and connecting lines in an old alchemical text — I was immediately drawn to its visual impact and began to study the tradition behind it,” Tremain says. “This tradition depicts the tree of life as a system of spheres and connecting pathways, and assigns numbers, letters, colors, sounds, and other symbols to these paths. The shapes themselves provide unlimited possibilities in art-making and open whole new possibilities of visual and spiritual discoveries as I apply my technique of painting to them.”

Early in her career, Tremain was greatly influenced by the abstract-expressionist painter Joan Snyder, whose works she describes as emotional, raw and free.

“I admire artists like Snyder, who take risks and point out the beauty in ‘ugly’ things,” Tremain says. “I allow order to emerge from seeming chaos, point out the patterns found in deteriorating things, and am attracted to the sometimes frightening aspects of birth and death. These things are reflections of the inner mysteries that I’m after when I paint.”

More recent influences include Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, Swiss artist Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin, whose words, Tremain says, embody her mission: “If you live by inspiration then you do what comes to you.”  

The artist has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Scottsdale, Maine, Delaware, Florida and Hawaii. Group exhibitions include SOFA Chicago, Art Miami, the Painted Bride, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the USArtists American Fine Art Show. Tremain was awarded a residency in 2004 at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2006, she served as an instructor in encaustic painting at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC.

Tremain has been reviewed widely, including critiques in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and LA Weekly. Her work is included in The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax published by Watson-Guptill, and in the art journal New American Paintings. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Tyler School of Art, Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania. Tremain balances her studio work with lectures; she leads community workshops and teaches art through various venues.

 

To learn more about Tremain’s work, contact Oriet Milmoe: www.orietsfineart.com; [email protected]

Field Honors Yeardley Love’s Memory at Notre Dame Prep

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As the year ends, and we continue to contemplate the vibrant life and tragic death in 2010 of UVA lacrosse and field hockey star Yeardley Reynolds Love, and as we await further disturbing trial news come February, it’s uplifting to consider the new growth sprouting in her gentle name. This spring, Notre Dame Prep in Hampton will break ground on a $1.2 million turf field to honor Love’s memory. “The project pays homage to the 2006 graduate who excelled in lacrosse and field hockey and was a strong student, leader and volunteer,” writes Mary Gail Hare in The Baltimore Sun. Actual construction is scheduled to begin in the summer.

A gift of $165,000 from the Charles T. Bauer Foundation plus matching funds will pay for the $500,000+ field project. NDP has worked in collaboration with The One Love Foundation, an organization established by Yeardley Love’s family in her memory. The Bauer Foundation issued a challenge grant in 2010, which has helped secure funds for the field and an NDP scholarship after Love as well.

“This project honors both Yeardley’s love of sports and her connection to her alma mater, and it keeps her spirit alive at NDP forever,” says Sister Patricia McCarron, SSND, Ph.D., headmistress — quoted on the NDP website.

We encourage readers to visit the One Love Foundation website to donate — we also recommend reading the honest and affecting essay written by Yeardley Love in ninth grade, posted on the homepage.

An excerpt: “Since I was about nine years old, I have wanted to go to the University of Virginia for college and play Lacrosse there. After college, I hope to attend Virginia Law School for three years; and after that I wish to have a family and become a lawyer. If I had to wish for three things in my life, they would be to go to the University of Virginia for college, have a happy and healthy family when I grow up, and to always keep in touch and stay close with my family. So far my life has been filled with joy and happiness, and I hope to keep living my life that way.”

Late Night Noodling: Delicious Kitsch at the Szechuan House

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My boyfriend and I are night owls — freelancers, we work late; we eat around 11; we might sleep in later than you. Dining out presents a problem. In Baltimore, it’s almost impossible to find a restaurant open past 10 beyond the Paper Moon (get ready for a line) or Wendy’s drive-through (and another line). Enter heavenly Szechuan House, which is somewhat mysteriously open till midnight, throughout the entire week. Eccentric Hours of Business account for just one of six seductive reasons we’re addicted to this Chinese restaurant nestled in a nothing strip mall in Lutherville.

Reason Two: Killer Cuisine. Huge Hunan shrimp mixed with crisp vegetables, broccoli florets the size of a rose, all decked in exactly the right amount of brown sauce. Healthful brown rice is an option. My boyfriend, a vegetarian, can choose between several hearty tofu-centered dishes. The soy stuff is yummy, too, fried to the perfect firm texture. Popular noodle soups emit S’s of steam. A side sushi menu, which regulars tend to dabble in, exists too, though I stick to the proven Chinese options. One low note: Szechuan’s General Tso’s chicken and their sweet ‘n’ sour chicken are nearly equal parts meat and greasy breading. Otherwise, the old-school Chinese favorites are all really excellent. Entrees arrive magically fast, usually quite hot, and you’ll likely leave with leftovers. Not an exaggeration: The average entree costs less than 10 dollars. Oh, and as you scan the menu making up your mind, if your waitress likes you, or for whatever random reason, you may receive a silver bowl of shelled pistachios in addition to your guaranteed fried wontons. After dinner, the requisite fortune cookie comes sweetly set atop a scoop of rainbow sherbet. When the check lands, my boyfriend and I both offer to treat…knowing the total will be under $23, despite the fact the we’ve each downed a couple of glasses of wine while we feasted.

Szechuan House is Bring Your Own Alcohol and they’re totally friendly and supportive when you yank the bottle of Yellow Tail out. “Need wine glasses?” “Yes, please!” “Need opener?” “We brought one.” No fee for the privilege, however, if you ask them to uncork.

The Comfy/Tacky Decor and Low-Key Location Rock. If the food weren’t so fantastic, and the waitresses friendly without coming on too strong, Szechuan House’s strip-mall residence might not appeal. But there’s something so fun about driving to Lutherville late at night to park in a nearly empty lot shared by a nail salon, a dry cleaner, and a creepy gym called Spunk! It’s not the Gen-X irony that I dig, but the notion that I’m about to gain passage inside an alternative realm, in which the action rolls after hours, a semi-well-kept secret world, camouflaged by neon signs. (Though Szechuan House has earned glowing reviews and “Best of” nods from local publications, I find that many of my friends have not heard of the place till I suggest we meet there.) Inside, the carpeted restaurant is warehouse-roomy with the vibe of a grandparental dining room — arrive after 10, you’ll encounter maybe half a dozen patrons, maybe fewer; before 10, it’s busy, but the wait won’t ever be too long. (A suggestion: As a courtesy, show up before 11 on a weeknight, since traffic slows and the staff surely wants to go home once delivery orders are filed.) Most tables feature booth seating. Table cloths are pressed to impress. Aquariums swim with pebble-nibbling pet fishes. The electric chandeliers brighten the already way-bright white room too much, but too much is exactly what you want at Szechuan House. (Incidentally, don’t skip a trip to the bathroom where you’ll find a trademark “Lotus toilet” complete with a touch-pad menu of options for personal cleanup assistance. They probably got a deal on the high-tech thing. Don’t partake–no one does that!–merely observe.)

Wait. The Music alternates between extra-bombastic show tunes, like, “Man of La Mancha,” and melodramatic Chinese pop music, certain songs featuring a woman who sounds like she’s laughing and crying at once. We make a monthly trip to the House — at this point, we can sing along with certain bars as we meanwhile pig out until we just can’t pig anymore. Then it’s time for us to say in unison, “Listen, let me get the check!”

1427 York Road
(410) 825-8181

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