Arts Capital

By Charlie Husking January 1, 2011

Star Power

Casper Van Dien has the perfect jawline and the perfect name for an action/adventure star. The handsome Van Dien, best known for the film Starship Troopers, is in Sarasota this winter filming the TV series Miami 24/7. He plays a helicopter newsman in the series, the first project of Sanborn Studios in Lakewood Ranch.

His name isn’t a press agent’s confection, by the way. The eldest son in the Van Dien family has been named Casper for 11 generations. Though the clan’s roots go back to the Dutch settlers of New York, Van Dien was born in Milton, Fla., where his father, a retired U.S. Naval commander, taught Navy pilots to fly. He attended Florida State University for a year before becoming an actor.

Lots of Van Dien’s relatives are likely to be on the set, as his parents live in Punta Gorda and he has sisters in Venice and Bradenton. No word yet whether his wife, actress Catherine Oxenberg, will be visiting from the couple’s California home. She’s a descendant of Yugoslavian royalty, as you surely know if you watched the couple’s 2005 Lifetime reality series, I Married a Princess.


Losing Leif?  

Some Sarasota Orchestra supporters were distressed when the news broke that conductor and artistic director Leif Bjaland is a finalist for a similar position with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Had last season’s acrimonious contract negotiations between the musicians and management taken its toll? Had Bjaland’s relationship with CEO Joe McKenna deteriorated?

Actually, Bjaland says he’s “never been more joyful or optimistic” than he is about the continually escalating quality of the orchestra, as well as its potential for the future.

“On the other hand, if one is to grow one has to be open to new challenges,” he says. “That’s good not only for me, but for the orchestras with which I have an affiliation.”

If Bjaland gets the Colorado job (he’s one of five finalists, and earned good reviews for his guest conductor stint in October), he might be able to divide his time between Sarasota and Colorado, if both organizations agree. He currently conducts the Waterbury Symphony in Connecticut when not in Sarasota. That contract expires in a year (his Sarasota contract has two more seasons, including this one).

But he says it’s too early to speculate how he might arrange his schedule. “I had a very positive experience in Colorado, but they have four other excellent candidates they’ll be considering until April,” he says. The Colorado orchestra’s budget is about one-third that of Sarasota’s; but, Bjaland says, “They have a wonderful concert hall, and lots of ambition and skill.”

Meanwhile, buoyed by the success of his innovative, multi-media Journeys to Genius concerts, Bjaland says he’s eager to “further push the envelope, while being mindful of the tradition from which we spring.”


Leading Man

When Jim Shirley was named executive director of the Sarasota County Arts Council (just renamed the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County), some were skeptical, as he didn’t have an arts background. But he gets high marks for his first year on the job from most people I talk to.

Though he’s not a visionary with a barn-burning speaking style, he’s quietly worked to get the organization back on track after some difficult years. He’s been particularly good at fostering collaborations among arts and cultural groups. He worked hard to make the fledgling sARTee’ festival more successful than it might have been. And he put on an Arts Leadership Awards ceremony in October that many feel was the best in memory. Now I hear he’s working on helping to restore a version of the Sarasota Reading Festival.


Local Boy Makes Good

I picked the perfect night—Halloween—to see Sarasota’s own Paul Reubens, left, take Broadway by storm in The Pee-Wee Herman Show. Nearly half the excited audience members in Manhattan’s Stephen Sondheim Theatre had come in costume.

There were plenty of Pee-Wees, of course: guys and a few women wearing his trademark ill-fitting gray suit and red bow tie. Others dressed as Miss Yvonne, Cowboy Curtis, Chairy and other characters from the show, which is a giddy live version of the old Saturday morning TV series, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

Reubens’ energy never flagged during the show, which will clearly be more appealing to loyal fans like these, who gleefully cheered some of the famous catch phrases, such as “I know you are, but what am I?” Afterward, Reubens came out the stage door, still in costume, to greet a crowd of well-wishers that was so large he had to use a megaphone.


Because I was away for the first Ringling International Arts Festival, I practically camped out on the Ringling campus for round two, attending eight performances, plus a couple of stimulating lectures. Congratulations to everyone from director Dwight Currie to the corps of helpful volunteers who made the festival such a smoothly run success. I hear that visual arts could be a bigger component in the future, which would make the event even better.

I found I had the best time just standing in the lobby or parking lot after a show, sharing opinions and suggestions with people who had just attended different performances in other venues. You know you’ve got a hit when you wish you could be in three places at once.

My favorite event was The Boys, performed in Russian with English subtitles by the talented young actors from Moscow’s Theatre Art Studio. The two hours flew by, and you quickly forgot they weren’t speaking English.


To the same talented young actors from the Theatre Art Studio, who, feeling no pain at the opening night gala, mounted a statue of a centaur in front of the museum and knocked it off its pedestal. I’m told the damage was minor. And somebody who helped with production of The Boys said the event had a silver lining. “The company was rather demanding at first, but after the statue incident, they were a bit chastened,” my source says.

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