Friday, April 24, 2015

True Hollywood Story: John Carroll Grad Makes Film Honoring Sister

Kelly Donovan stars in a documentary her brother made, Kelly's Hollywood.
Photo credit: Jessica Z Diamond
Brian Donovan had a midlife crisis when he was 23 years old. When his desire of becoming an actor began to nag at him, he left his job as an account executive at The Cleveland Edition, swearing he would never wear a tie again. Since then, he has worn a tie about 15 times throughout his acting career in Los Angeles, where he’s also the CEO and creator of an educational children’s show, The Mighty Me Training Camp.

The John Carroll University graduate began his acting career around the same time as Saturday Night Live cast member and Shaker Heights native Molly Shannon  and the two ended up living together for six years. Donovan is now an established voice actor, but the project that remains closest to his heart is the documentary Kelly’s Hollywood, which chronicles visits with his sister Kelly, who has Down syndrome. Donovan would introduce Kelly to actors Colin Firth, David Hasselhoff and Tori Spelling, and give her a chance to perform her own live version of The Tonight Show, where she stars as a Hollywood diva being interviewed by her brother.

On April 26, Kelly’s Hollywood debuts at 6:30 p.m. at John Carroll University’s Dolan Science Center with a post-screening Q&A. The film also screens at 6:30 p.m. April 28 at Brush High School. We chatted with Donovan about the endurance of filming a documentary, the personal toll and what he learned from the process.

Q: The film took seven years to complete. Why was it so important to see through?
A: I didn't know it was going to take seven years when I started! … I was compelled to tell her story because I still feel like there's lingering prejudice and misconceptions about the disabled. If you had seen my sister from afar or across the room, most would label her disabled, or “Oh, she has Downs.” We all are more than what we may be labeled or branded. I wanted people to see my sister for all that she was: passionate, loving, complex, emotional, talented and even the diva that she portrays in the documentary.

Q: Boundaries, or lack of, are a big theme in the documentary: Your relationship with your sister strained your other relationships. In hindsight, would you have done anything different?
A: I'd like to think that I wouldn't change a thing and don't really believe in regret. Maybe I could have been more sensitive to my girlfriend’s needs, but at the time and throughout Kelly's life she was my priority. It was a sacred relationship cemented at childhood, and it never made sense for me to compromise that for a new relationship. It was a tricky thing to be sure and finding the balance was nearly impossible until I met my now wife.

Q: What do you want people to take away from the film?
A: We are not who we are when we're born, but who we are when we live and that dreams are important and should be honored and pursued with every fiber of your being. It not only gives oneself a purpose, but it also creates a vibration in the world that is attractive and infectious. Our attitude is the only thing we can control in different circumstances.Beginning with my mom's attitude to bring my sister home from the hospital when the doctors advised her to institutionalize her, my sisters attitude that she was more than her disability, and my attitude that love is the greatest gift we have to give.

By Megan Murray

In a Rut: Cleveland Police Body Cameras

A Taser International AXON Body camera.
Body cameras, I write in the upcoming May issue of Cleveland Magazine, are making their way onto Cleveland streets. However, an internal audit has put the rollout on hold.

The original plan called for the entire Cleveland Division of Police to be equipped by the end of June. Now rollout for the next district in line, the Second, is stalled. “I don’t have a date,” says police spokesperson Sgt. Ali Pillow.

“It’s my understanding that we will still be on pace to have all five district’s basic patrol personnel outfitted before the end of this year,” says Pillow.

Before the rollout gets started again, the department wants to re-evaluate its policies. “The audit is to look at all the video procedures, marking the video, uploading it and the procedures that the officer uses when retrieving the video,” says Pillow. “The entire process.”

“It will be much easier to do that in one [district] than five or two, or whatever,” says Pillow.

Pillow could not elaborate on the scope of the audit, being conducted within the Division of Public Safety.

For its part, the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association is none too happy with the cameras in general, reported WKYC’s Tom Meyer last night. The city denied the station’s (ridiculously vague) public records request that “asked for incidents during the time the body cameras have been in operation to help identify cases that used the cameras.”

More importantly, the audit process means that the General Police Order governing the body camera system could change. Here's the current iteration.

“That document is a fluid document in terms of our policy,” says Pillow. “Like with anything that you just start, there are going to be some things that work or might work or could be improved.”

Currently, the policy calls for periodic reviews of footage by police supervisors and the Mobile Support Unit. No news on whether the post-audit policy will include independent reviews of footage by a civilian body such as the Civilian Police Review Board.

The Fourth District (map below for the unfamiliar) is the only of Cleveland’s five police districts currently making use of the cameras from Taser International. Already officers there have recorded about 30,000 videos, Sgt. Todd Melzer of the Mobile Support Unit told me in an interview two weeks ago.

Outfitting 1,500 officers is bound to be logistically messy. Each station must have a separate dedicated Internet connection, needed to upload vast quantities of video to Taser’s cloud service The Fourth initially did not have such a connection, though it now does, as do the other four districts.

For officers, there is a definite learning curve in the field. Deliberate button pressing must become muscle memory. For supervisors, properly reviewing footage and releasing videos via Cleveland’s already slow public records process presents yet another wrinkle.

“The entire process is being reviewed and there could be some changes to the policy,” says Pillow.

Seven months after City Council shelled out for the cameras, less than a quarter of Cleveland’s officers are equipped. The audit is making an already plodding process slower. But a deliberative, forward-looking rollout — with some more solid deadlines — can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How to Piss Off an Entire City, In One Easy Step

On Tuesday, a Boston Globe sports columnist, having very little Boston Celtics basketball to write about, took it upon himself to do a little Cleveland bashing.

“Cleveland once was one of America’s five largest cities. Today, downtown Cleveland is a sad space with many vacant buildings and boarded-up stores,” wrote Dan Shaughnessy. “The city is quiet on weekends and empty on weeknights after the workforce goes home. It feels like the local economy runs on lottery tickets.”

He hits the usual high points — the Cleveland Indians lack of butts in seats, the perpetual circus of Browns football, the championship drought — just with the added perspective of looking down his national nose at us poor, lusty plebeians.

“At the corner of East Fourth Street and Prospect you can still get a 16-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon for $3 at Flannery’s Pub,” he wrote. “Not far from the other end of Fourth Street, there’s the Horseshoe Casino, connected to the Tower City Center. This is not a high-roller crowd. It’s not Ocean’s Eleven. It’s more like Atlantic City-on-the-Cuyahoga.”

Naturally, Cleveland’s booster set was deeply insulted. At The Q last night, there was a sassy video and no confetti. The Northeast Ohio Media Group curated a few choice reactions from their readers. Twitter tossed a self-righteous fit.

Local government even waded into the fray. Armond Budish, Cuyahoga county executive, issued an email statement.

“If you took a little bit longer of a walk, you’d see that downtown boasts thousands of residents and an occupancy rate of nearly 98 percent,” he said to Shaughnessy. “It seems that we can’t build downtown apartments fast enough for all of the folks clamoring to live here! Our city is tough and, yes, we are revitalizing.”

Over in alt weekly-dom, Scene got the story behind the story. Recently, a glowing Cleveland travel piece in the Globe was removed for violating the paper’s ethics guidelines, Sam Allard found. Destination Cleveland was the culprit, financing the junket.

True, Shaughnessy’s piece reads like a piece of junket writing, with its carefully chosen locales and gently shepherded experiences.

Shock. Horror.

"I'm a little concerned for Cleveland that they're so sensitive," Shaughnessy told the Northeast Ohio Media Group late yesterday. "You don't need to be. You guys are better than that. You have a championship-caliber team this year. You should win the championship. Let yourselves enjoy it."

A swashbuckling TV reporter even went so far as to march into the poor man's hotel room and all but demanded an apology. He gave in, definitely convinced by the kind folks at CLE Clothing Co. who made the case for "new Cleveland" in the segment.

Is our skin really so paper-thin?

Conversely, are we so blind that we willfully reject our shortcomings when they are practically punching us in the face?

At the very least, Shaughnessy provides a small dose of reality in a needlessly acerbic fashion.

A quick walk from Playhouse Square to the downtown Heinen’s reveals still-vacant storefronts, waiting for developers to get their act together. Thirteen thousand residents or not, downtown is still far from a 24/7 city.

Outside pockets of shiny new stuff, the some old problems prevail. Poverty, segregation both racial and economic, and dilapidation are still facts of life in Cleveland. For every Ohio City, there seems to be three Glenvilles. Viewed holistically, Cleveland’s revival is at best imperfect, at worst inequitable.

Nonetheless the revival, the upward trajectory, is real. And it’s happening here.

If this brouhaha proves anything, it’s that we don't quite believe it's happening ourselves. We are, as Shaughnessy points out, crying out for a little validation. It's as if we think all these good things will disappear if we simply blink.

This is real, we tell ourselves while sipping our tallboys, not quite buying in as we should. It may be ugly, but doing nothing is a greater sin. There may not be consensus about where we’re going, but hell, we’ll go somewhere.

And when the next inevitable volley comes, hopefully we will process the criticism as more than groups of either blind boosters or vacuous misanthropes.

After all there’s no greater pleasure than, so many years later, looking back on the schoolyard bully and saying, “Oh yeah? What have you done?”

Spring Is Ramping Up

Spring has finally taken root in Northeast Ohio, and with the warmer weather comes the start of ramp season. Ramps are wild plants that resemble scallions in flavor and cooking application as well as appearance. Their thin, white bulbous roots can be used just like garlic or onions — sauteed or in pestos, for instance — while the purplish-red stems and green leaves are excellent when cooked lightly like spinach.

But while ramps can be found easily in wooded parkland such as the Cleveland Metroparks Rocky River Reservation, picking them from public land is a big no-no.

If you aren't lucky enough to find them in your own backyard, don't despair: This Saturday, April 25 is the annual Ramp Up Peninsula festival hosted on the grounds of Hale Farm and Village from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. It's just $3 (children 12 and under free), and vendors — including Fresh Fork Market, Pope's Kitchen, Sow Food, Spice of Life, Wok 'n' Roll Food Truck, Red Lotus Foods and Grabham's Candies, among others — will feature the ramp in everything from pizzas to fritters to desserts.

Plus, enjoy live music, educational presentations by professional foragers and a ramp-off competition at 3 p.m.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Five Epic Moments From the Rock Hall Induction Ceremony

Whether it was boldly paving the way for an entire genre or opening the doors for equality in race and gender, rock ‘n’ roll would not be what it is today without the 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees. The honorees joined more than six decades of music’s greatest icons at Public Hall Saturday for an epic celebration. As Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong said of the crowd, “It’s like my record collection is actually sitting in this room.” Inductees included Ringo Starr, the “5” Royales, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Bill Withers. From a misty-eyed tribute to the late Reed to the hysterical jokes of Withers to a monumental all-star jam led by Starr here are highlights from the ceremony that will air May 30 on HBO.

Joan Jett
Joan Jett Feels Accepted

So Miley Cyrus grabbed attention when she started inducting Joan Jett by saying that she wanted to have sex with her, dropped a ton of F-bombs and told a story about smoking pot in a hotel bathroom with Jett before taping Oprah together. But when the leather jacketed, striped pant-donning Jett took the stage, she received a standing ovation that sent tears streaming out of her black-lined eyes. “I was trying to not bawl because people just did not think girls could play rock ‘n’ roll,” she later said. “You know the all the nasty things that were said to us went on for years and years. … So to see that whole place standing up like that was like acceptance and it was very moving.”

Jimmie Vaughan and Double Trouble
An Electrifying Tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan

“The ultimate guitar hero” is how John Mayer views the late Vaughan. While he was inducting him, he acknowledged that Vaughan saved his life by stressing the importance of staying clean from drugs and alcohol. The Texas blues guitarist got a blazing tribute with “Pride and Joy and “Texas Flood” performed by his brother Jimmie, Mayer, Gary Clark Jr. and Doyle Bramhall II replete with soaring guitar solos. Jimmie closed out the set with a send-up he wrote fro his brother, “Six Strings Down.” 

Laurie Anderson Remembers Lou Reed

“Lou, Lou, Lou” floated through the air as Laurie Anderson delivered the most emotional speech of the night about her husband who passed in 2013. While still reeling from the loss of the alternative pioneer, she took great comfort in knowing that his name lives on for an eternity through the Hall of Fame. “He’s here with his heroes Otis and Dion. He’s here with B.B. King, who he loved and admired. Aretha, who he saw so many times. His dear friend Doc Pomus.” She left the audience with a heartfelt rundown of Reed’s rules to live by: don’t be afraid of anyone, get a really good bullshit detector and be really tender.

Bill Withers and Stevie Wonder

Bill Withers Tells Spunky Jokes

The 76-year-old R&B singer-songwriter who’s been out of the spotlight for nearly 30 years showed off his sprightly charisma by going off the teleprompter and musing on random-fire topics from Yoko Ono’s hat to his adoration for Judge Judy. “I’m honored to be this year’s youngest living solo performer inductee. Who else came here with a Legend and a Wonder?” he quipped. But he wasn’t all funny business. After a 25-year hiatus from performing, Withers surprisingly took the stage to join Stevie Wonder and John Legend for a gospel-laced “Lean on Me” rendition that brought the audience to its feet.

Joe Walsh and Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr Shouts Out to Cleveland

Our city shaped Ringo Starr. Let that one sink in. “I got lucky that it’s actually in Cleveland,” said the last of the four Beatles to be inducted as a solo artist. Starr talked about listening to Alan Freed’s broadcasts from Cleveland while growing up in Liverpool, England. “That’s where we heard rock ‘n’ roll music,” he recalled. He repaid us with leading the night's best performances, all-star jams of “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “I Wanna Be Your Man”  that solidifies this class' standing amongst legends.

Photos by Jennifer Keirn

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Beers, Brats and Baseball

The first day of spring in Cleveland isn't on the equinox, it's on the day of the Indians home opener. We all know that baseball is better when it's washed down with a few draughts and a dog, so Hofbrauhaus Cleveland is stepping up to the plate.

This Thursday at 6:30 p.m., former Indians player and 1980 Rookie of the Year Joe Charboneau will tap a keg of the German beer hall's monthly brew, a Pilsner that's still made using an original recipe from Munich. The party is free and includes polka music by the Chardon Polka Band.

The next evening, on Friday, April 10, baseball fans can pregame at Hofbrauhaus in the new outdoor beer garden, which seats 1,000 and includes a walk-up pavilion to purchase beer and brats. Twenty bucks buys you a liter of beer, a brat meal with sauerkraut and potato salad, plus shuttle service to and from Progressive Field (shuttles leave every 15 minutes, starting at 2:30 p.m. before the game and resuming again from the eighth inning to 90 minutes after the game).

Tickets are available from Hope you bought your tickets early, because Indians tickets not included, and the game is long sold out. But hey, that means more beer for you while you watch the action on the main beer hall's four big-screen TVs.

A Call To Cleveland: Artist Michael Rakowitz Wants Your Orange Objects

Artist Michael Rakowitz proposes that Clevelanders remove orange from their lives.

In the wake of the tragic police shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Clevelanders have been left with the burning question: What do we do now?

Michael Rakowitz, an artist known for bridging art with political activism through social experiments and a Northwestern University professor, is proposing a grand solution — that Clevelanders rid themselves of the color orange as a statement on the loss of safety. The removal of orange mimics the absent orange safety cap from the fake gun Rice had at the time of the shooting last fall.

"A color removed will challenge the city of Cleveland to have a wide range of uncomfortable discussions on race and violence in a city where people of color do not feel safe," said Rakowitz during a talk at Case Western Reserve University Tuesday night. 

The lecture was a discussion of art as activism and a public brainstorming session for this upcoming art project that would potentially remove orange from the city. Rakowitz is internationally known for controversial public artworks including an Iraqi meal served on plates once owned by Saddam Hussein and homeless shelters made from garbage bags and tape. 

One suggestion to remove orange is to activate spaces throughout the city — art galleries, restaurants, storefronts and community centers — that would act as repositories where citizens can donate orange objects to be displayed. Loren Naji has already signed on to have his Satellite Gallery on the East Side be one such repository, where he'll either donate a room to the project or set up an exhibit in the front yard.

Other options include painting orange traffic cones blue, replacing orange safety vests with yellow ones and having the Cleveland Cavaliers play with different-colored basketballs during their games — after all, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving sported "I Can't Breathe" shirts in December to stand in solidarity with New York police shooting victim Eric Garner.

"At the heart of this project is a question: How does it feel to live in a society where the right to safety is removed?" asks Rakowitz, who plans to meet with city officials in the coming months to jump-start this project that does not have an end date. "If we're talking about the absence of color, let's take it to the next step and actually make a grand gesture about redacting the color of orange and redacting safety from Cleveland as a whole as an act of solidarity."