Chesapeake Film Festival Spotlight: ‘Riverment’ Director Shayla Racquel

While every year the Chesapeake Film Festival brings to the Mid-Shore the best examples of independent filmmaking, with many of their annual selections going on to be full feature success stories with awards and a broad public audience, some of the really exceptional parts of the festival are devoted to showcasing the work of an entirely new generation of directors.

Independent to the core, creative, and with sometimes the simplest of equipment, like using only a smartphone camera, these young filmmakers can produce the same quality of storytelling in short form as their older, more experienced colleagues can do with full feature films.

Shayla Racquel is one of those new filmmakers, and Riverment is one of those films.

In 2018, Shayla completed Riverment, a short film that discusses intergenerational trauma while comparing and contrasting movements. The film follows the relationship between a grandmother and a granddaughter to highlight how women have been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of all political and social movements.

The Spy sat down with Shayla in College Park last month to talk about her life and film work.

This video is approximately three minutes in length. For more information about the Chesapeake Film Festival please go here 

Spy Minute: A Birthday Party for the Academy Art Museum

There was a full day of birthday activities at the Academy Art Museum on Saturday to celebrate sixty remarkable  years of service to the Mid-Shore. As with the actual mission of the museum to teach and show art, the open house allowed visitors to look at paintings from its permanent collection, participate in community art project to produce a commemorative flag, listen in on a class, or simply chit-chat with friends.

The Spy was there to capture some of the fun.

This video is approximately one minute in length.  For more information about the Academy Art Museum please go here

Academy Art Museum Crafts Show: A Preview with Alison Cooley and Craig Fuller

For thousands of artists and collectors each year there are a handful of crafts shows throughout the country known for their unique quality, and it is extremely good fate for the Eastern Shore that the Academy Art Museum’s annual crafts show is one of those select few.

With a tough selection process, where only one out of three are chosen to show their work in Easton, the AAM Crafts Show has turned out to be one of the most delightful parts of the busy fall art season for both devotees of American craft but all on the Mid-Shore who appreciate the extraordinary talent it takes to produce these different kinds of work of art.

The Spy sat down with operations director Alison Cooley and Chair Craig Fuller, this year’s chairs, to get a quick debriefing on what to expect when the doors open on October 19th but what will be online here well before then.

This video is approximately two minutes minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum Craft Show please go here


Chesapeake Film Festival 2018: It Starts with a Trailer by Kindall Rende

One of the great traditions of film festivals everywhere is a trailer produced by either a well-known or inspiring filmmaker every year to encourage attendance. Depending on such things as size and budget, the hope is that the commissioned piece, even as a teaser, becomes a short film unto itself.

And the Chesapeake Film Festival is part of that club. Year after year, filmmakers are selected to entice and intrigue viewers to take a break and come to see the film screenings. And this year it has been produced by Talbot County’s Kindall Rende of 3 More Frames. The Spy received an early preview copy to share for the CFF which starts October 11.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information on the Chesapeake Film Festival for 2018 please go here

AAM Celebrates 60 Years: A Chat with Artist Julia Vogl on Social Sculpture Celebrating Place

Turning sixty years old for any institution is a big deal, but it is particularly true for a beloved art museum. Summing up six decades of art exhibitions and the art education of literally thousands of art students over the years is a formidable task, but the Academy Art Museum has filled a year with lectures, galas, open houses, and exhibiting its permanent collection.

It also, appropriately so, has commissioned a public art project to commemorate its founding in 1958 by bringing on London-based artist Julia Vogl to lead the charge. Vogl’s social sculptures incorporate civic engagement, architectural interventions, and color.

Working with close to fifty volunteers this week, the project will focus on creating Academy-60th-themed linoleum plates to print bunting flags, which we will hang streaming in the Courtyard for the party. It will be unveiled in the Museum’s Courtyard during the Museum’s birthday party this Saturday.

The Spy sat down with Julia a few days ago to discuss the project and the importance of celebrating a sense of place.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Academy Art Museum and its 60th Anniversary please go here


Upcoming Jazz Festival Spotlights Easton High School Chorale

It’d be a dream for any high schooler in a choir to share a stage with a professional jazz vocalist. For members of the Easton High School Warrior Chorale, it’s soon to be a reality.

The 20 or so singers will perform an opening set on Sunday, September 2nd, at Brianna Thomas’ matinee performance during the last day of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival.

“They’re wonderful chorally and they sing four-part harmonies really well. Their timing is really tight and they’re really very professional,” says John Malin, recalling his first time seeing the Warrior Chorale. “I was very impressed with them.”

Brianna Thomas

Over the last few years, Malin and Festival Founder Al Sikes have discussed expanding the Festival beyond its professional bill and extending its community outreach efforts. Each year, MAJF offers a “community concert” —a free performance that was originally established to provide an introduction to jazz, familiarizing concert-goers with the incredibly diverse and somewhat misunderstood genre.

And while that program continues to blossom with exciting performances, like this year’s Saturday morning concert featuring piano prodigy Matthew Whitaker, there was a local element that was missing. That led Malin and Sikes to discuss incorporating a high school choir into the program. When Malin attended a choir competition hosted by Easton High School last fall, he knew he’d found something special.

“They did a sort of gospel number and I thought ‘Wow! They are fabulous,” he says, explaining how he immediately approached director Andrea Davis after the performance about the choir’s participation in the Festival. “It all just flowed from there.”

Comprising high schoolers—from 14- to 18-year-olds—the group will perform about a handful of numbers, Malin says. The setlist includes some relatively traditional jazz numbers, along with a gospel song.

“The kids are really excited,” he adds.

After what is sure to be an incredible set by the Warrior Chorale, Thomas will take the stage. With a soulfully strong voice—often likened to Mahalia Jackson, a comparison only accomplished by the most gifted singers—Thomas has played clubs and festivals for over a decade.

The singer-songwriter made her initial entrance into the professional jazz world with ‘30s-style swing, but later focused her musical finesse on ballad standards, scatting, and blues.

In 2014, Thomas released her debut album “You Must Believe in Love”. Critics alike raved how the album wonderfully demonstrated her impressive vocal range, envy-inducing scat skills, and emotional depth.

“[She] may be the best young straight-ahead jazz singer of her generation,” wrote Will Friedwald in a review for the Wall Street Journal.

Like the Warrior Chorale’s musical selections, Thomas’ performance will blend two genres, gospel and jazz. Titled “Traces of Mahalia and Ella,” it’ll be the perfect accompaniment for a Sunday afternoon.

Catch the Easton High School Warrior Chorale and Brianna Thomas at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 2nd, at the Avalon Theatre. Tickets are $25. To purchase, visit Jazzonthechesapeake.

The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music.

Review: Tred Avon’s Little Shop of Horrors — A Must-See!

Florist Mushnik (Bill Gross) and his adopted son Seymour (Mike Sousa) sing of their new-found success. – Photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, performed by the Tred Avon Players, is now playing at Oxford Community Center. Based on an unabashedly schlocky black-and-white horror film by the legendary Roger Corman, the musical takes us to the Skid Row Florist shop, where a low-paid assistant makes a strange new plant flourish – with unexpected results.

Directed by Marcia Gilliam, the Tred Avon production does a first-class job with the show’s musical score, which draws heavily on the sound and ambiance of 1950s’ rock ‘n’ roll. With a strong cast and toe-tapping music, Gilliam and the TAP gang have put on a delightful show, well worth a trip to Oxford for playgoers all across the Shore.

The Corman film, which was produced on a budget of $28,000 in 1960, mixed the story of a man-eating plant with a generous helping of dark comedy and satire. With a cast of B-film stalwarts including Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, and Mel Welles – and a very minor part by Jack Nicholson – the film was reportedly shot in only two days, using a left-over set from Corman’s previous horror-comedy, “A Bucket of Blood.” It gradually gained a cult following, with late-night TV showings helping to build its popularity.

“Feed me!” demands the plant Audrey Two – voiced by Kathy Jones.  Note the feet of Audrey’s latest victim as he slides down the plant’s carnivorous maw!        – photo by Jane Jewell

Little Shop of Horrors, the musical, was created in 1982 by composer Alan Menken and script-writer Howard Ashman. Originally an off-off-Broadway production, it moved to the Orpheum Theater where it ran for five years, ending up as the highest-grossing off-Broadway musical to date. However, because it did not appear on Broadway, it was ineligible for the Tony Awards. It finally appeared on Broadway in 2003, in a million-dollar production that ran for 372 regular performances. The musical has also been made into a film in its own right, directed by Frank Oz (of “Muppet Show” fame) in 1986. Bill Murray and Steve Martin play minor roles in the film.

The plot, which is somewhat changed from the Corman film, introduces the Skid Row Florist shop, a failing business in the worst part of town. Mr. Mushnik, the shop’s owner, is ready to close his doors for good when Seymour, his geeky assistant, says he has an interesting new plant that might attract customers. Mushnik is skeptical, but no sooner does Seymour put the plant by the window than a customer comes in and spends $100 on a bouquet of roses.

Down on Skid Row — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik decides the business isn’t washed up after all, and with the strange plant in the window, the shop takes off.  Seymour names the plant Audrey Two, after the shop’s other employee, for whom he has a secret crush.  But there’s a downside to everything, as Seymour learns when he accidentally spills a few drops of blood from a fresh cut into Audrey Two’s “mouth.” The plant has a craving for food – human flesh and blood, to be exact – and that discovery propels the rest of the plot. Seymour must keep the plant, which has grown to enormous size, fed – and it will only accept fresh food.

We won’t give away all the twists and turns – which range from gruesome to outright comic. The play has an infectious momentum, helped along by a likable set of songs that draw on the music of the era in which it’s set. The production also has a fair amount of fun with the social milieu of the late ‘50s, as in the song “Someplace That’s Green,” where Seymour and Audrey pine for a suburban lifestyle straight out of the TV sitcoms of the day.

The TAP production’s strong cast presents Mike Sousa as Seymour, the florist’s assistant. Sousa, who has several other credits at TAP, does a good job of portraying the earnest protagonist as well as a good job with the musical numbers. A nice performance in the key role.

Shelby Swann plays Audrey, Seymour’s love interest, and she brings a strong singing voice to the role, along with a nice New York accent to bring out the character. Most of her work at TAP has been backstage, but judging by her performance here, she should be encouraged to take more onstage roles.

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, played by Rachel Elaina, Beth Anne Langrell, and Erinne Lewis, respectively, are near the heart of the play.  The trio’s names play on the names of popular “girl groups” of the early ‘60s, and that’s a good hint of the nature of their musical contribution. All have fabulous voices and they authentically re-create the music and mood of the ’60s. But in addition to delivering some of the most infectious tunes in the show, they act as a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action and delivering narrative hooks as necessary.  Lewis also created the choreography for the show – a good complement to the overall effect.  They have all the right moves as they shimmy and shake, stepping in time to the music – just like all the popular girl groups of the ’60s.  And their costumes are perfect.  They may live on Skid Row but they are always in style.

Ricky Viranovec gets the role of the play’s villain, dentist Orin Scrivello – Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend. He makes the most of the role, all but chewing on the scenery – a nice piece of casting.  He is a natural comic and his “death by laughing gas” scene is hilarious. Viranoves also plays several other small roles including the various agents who try to get Seymour to sign contracts with them.   Viranovec, who has appeared in a number of roles in Shore theaters, teaches theater at Easton High School.

The mad dentist (Ricky Vitanovec) enjoys his work.  Seymour (Mike Sousa) is not so sure. 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Bill Gross, who played the role of Oscar Madison in TAP’s The Odd Couple last summer, takes the role of Mr. Mushnik, the gruff owner of the flower shop. He gives a polish to the likeable curmudgeon who gleefully collects the money as Audrey Two brings in the customers.

Kathy Jones, in heavy makeup and wearing a crown of leaves, voices Audrey Two, the cannibalistic plant, with an appropriately sinister air. An excellent job by one of the regulars at Church Hill and the Garfield.  Her maniacal laughter at the climax of the play is awesome — and chill-inducing

The band for the show is led by pianist Ellen Barry Grunden, who does a great job of recapturing the doo-wop and ‘50s rock feel of the musical numbers. Ray Remesch on guitar and Jon Jacobs on bass add to the mix.

Costumes – including the deliciously period-perfect matching outfits of the trio – are by that fabulous costumer Barbi Bedell. Gilliam and Tom Lemm share the credit for puppet design and construction, and the set was designed by Lawrie Jessup and constructed with help from Lemm.

As already noted, this is a thoroughly enjoyable performance with great music and great acting – kudos to Gilliam and everyone involved.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through August 26, with performances at 7:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Oxford Community Center is at 200 Oxford Road, Oxford, MD.  If you come to one of the Sunday matinees, you’ll have the opportunity to take part in the “talk-back” with the actors after the show, meet all four of the Audrey Two plant puppets and their puppeteers, and get a backstage tour.

For reservations or other information, call 410-266-0061 or visit the TAP websitePhoto Gallery by Jane Jewell 

Some more photos:

Everyone wants a piece of Seymour and the exotic Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Mushnik & Seymour celebrate their success and their new father-son relationship – 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Audrey &  Seymour – oh yes, and Audrey Two — 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

“Somewhere That’s Green” 2018 Little Shop of Horrors production by the Tred Avon Players – Photo by Jane Jewell

Spy Minute: A Primer on the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival with Al Sikes

A few weeks ago, the Spy sat down with Al Sikes for a freewheeling conversation about national politics. The former FCC Chair had a lot to say about the subject given his remarkable tenure in Washington, but it was also clear from that discussion that nothing makes Al more excited these days than talking about his passion for jazz.

For almost ten years now, Al Sikes has been the central force behind the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival and its ever-growing reputation as one of the Mid-Atlantic’s top performance series. Al’s recruitment of the legendary Monty Alexander to be its musical director has led to some of the very best musicians in the country making their way to Easton every year.

After we finished our interview with Al on world events, we took a few minutes to talk about what jazz lovers can expect when the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival returns to the Mid-Shore over Labor Day Weekend.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival and tickets please go here.

Delmarva Review: “Hoover” by Pat Valdata

Damn. I feel the weight, all that
water behind me. I meet strength
for strength. My thick rebar bones
anchor my manmade rock face,
harder than sandstone. I can
withstand the push, the slow
dissolution of my foundation, grain
by cemented grain. I’ve stood still
for nearly a century, but nothing
compared to the canyon walls.
Still, I hear the call of gulls and
ravens who soar past sheer bulk
fixed to bedrock, and I wonder
what would it feel like: to break
off, to spread concrete wings and
look down as ton after endless ton
of water scours the cliffs, drowning
everyone, irresponsible and free.

Pat Valdata is a poet and fiction writer with an MFA from Goddard College. Her poetry books include Where No Man Can Touch, which won the 2015 Donald Justice Poetry Prize, Inherent Vice, and the chapbook Looking for Bivalve. She lives in Crisfield, Maryland, and is an adjunct professor teaching writing online for the University of Maryland University College.

Delmarva Review publishes compelling new prose and poetry from authors within the region and beyond. In it’s eleventh year, the nonprofit literary journal is supported by individual contributions and a grant from the Talbot County Arts Council with funds from the Maryland State Arts Council. For information and book copies, visit:

Spy Spotlight: TAP Takes on “Little Shop of Horrors”

It’s always a good sign when the director and actress of a new Tred Avon Player production show up for their interview in costume. Not only does it show how committed the cast and crew are but also the pure enjoyment it brings to the project.

That was the case when the Spy sat down with Little Shop of Horrors director Marcia Gilliam and Shelby Swann who plays Audrey, one of the main characters in this crowd-pleased theatrical production. Wearing their newly arrived “beehive” wigs, Marcia and Shelby talk about the history of the play, its music and its sometimes sobering plot line that has made it on to many actors “bucket lists” during their career. 

TAP will be presenting  the beloved musical comedy by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, and based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith. The show opens on Thursday, August 9 and runs through August 26 at the Oxford Community Center.

In Little Shop, Seymour Krelborn is a meek, dejected assistant in a seedy flower shop on Skid Row, who stumbles across a new breed of plant that he names “Audrey Two” after his co-worker crush. This R&B singing, carnivorous plant promises fame and fortune to the down-and-out Seymour as long as he keeps feeding it blood! As Audrey Two grows bigger and meaner, Seymour discovers the plant’s extraterrestrial origins and its intent of global domination, but has he discovered this too late?

The play is directed by Marcia and produced by Leigh Marquess. The cast includes Mike Sousa as Seymour, Shelby as Audrey, Beth Anne Langrell as Chiffon, Erinne Lewis as Ronnette, Rachel Elaina as Crystal, Bill Gross as Mr. Mushnik, Ricky Vitanovec as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., Matthew Keeler as Mr. Bernstein, Kathy Jones as the voice of Audrey Two, and Sarah Anthony and Ed Langrell in the ensemble. Some actors play several roles.

Performance dates are August 9, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26. August 9 is Half-Price Preview Thursday, $10 for adults and $5 for students. Regular performances are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 pm and Sunday shows are at 2:00 pm. The Oxford Community Center is located at 200 Oxford Rd. Oxford, MD 21654. For tickets go to or call 410-226-0061.