Archive for February, 2009

Orlando Shakespeare Theatre is a MUST SEE

February 27, 2009
Jim Helsinger, Queen Elizabeth and #1 Son

Jim Helsinger, Queen Elizabeth and #1 Son

“A visitor to Orlando may not expect to find arts and culture–They expect to find Theme Parks,” states Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director for the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.

Number One son and I are sitting at a table in the lobby of the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.  We have just watched an incredible, new play entitled, Wittenberg by David Davalos.  Jim was one of the leads.  He took a moment to speak with Brandon and I after the final performance of the play.

This was the third year that Number One Son and I were blown away by a new play’s premiere at this theatre.  In addition, we have seen several Shakespearean productions and other traditional and contemporary works in one of the four small theatres that comprise this complex.  I have also accompanied Number One Daughter’s Montessori School on a couple of afternoon field trips to see a Shakespearean play as part of the theatre’s commitment to educating young people.

Every show I have seen has been exceptional.

I have been to shows on Broadway, Off Broadway and regional theatre productions throughout the country.  I have seen professional touring productions in Los Angeles, Washington D. C. and Cincinnati.  I have seen musicals & plays in London, ballets & Russian folk dances in St. Petersburg, as well as Shakespearean productions at the recently re-created Globe Theatre near the banks of the Thames.  I have even appeared on the professional stage myself and was a theatre major for my undergraduate studies.

But I have never seen a theatre consistently produce so many high quality works of art as the OST; performance after performance, year after year.

Jim Helsinger has been with OST for seventeen of the 20 seasons it has been in existence and he is also a faculty member at UCF.  I was grateful that he took a few moments after his final performance to chat with Brandon and I.

I ask him if he wants me to convey any special message in my blog and he is quick to sing the praises of all the organizations that make up the Loch Haven Park complex, where OST is headquartered.

In addition to the OST in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, there is the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello Museum of American Art, the Orlando Repertory Theatre, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Science Center.

It’s a thriving cultural center that not many visitors to Orlando take advantage of or even know about.

Jim knows that the majority of people visiting the Orlando area come for the Theme Parks.  But for the lucky few who have found this blog–The well informed traveler looking for “more than a mouse”™–They will discover a show at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.

And they will be so glad they did!

12 Steps To Becoming The Next American Idol

February 20, 2009

…With Help From Disney!

Entrance to the American Idol Experience

Entrance to the American Idol Experience

1. Visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Each day, guests at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) have the opportunity to audition for “The American Idol Experience” which is an attraction inside the theme park.  Disney anticipates seven shows a day–one every hour on the hour, from noon to 6pm.  Each show will feature three singers.  During the show, three judges will give their opinions about how the singers perform, but the audience gets to use a control panel on their seat’s armrest to select the winner.  At 7pm, the winners of each of the seven previous shows perform in a finale showdown.

2. Be Between the Ages of 16-28

To audition for the American Idol experience at Disney you have to be at least 14 and there is no upper age limit. Guests between 14 and 18, need a parent to accompany them and sign a release form. However, no matter how you wow the audiences at Disney you have to be between the ages of 16 and 28 to go on to audition for the real TV show.

3. Arrive at the Park Early

Only 21 performers are chosen each day so Disney expects the slots to fill up quickly.

4. Wow the “Casting Director”

On to the Producer!

On to the Producer!

After watching a short video and signing a release form, you are taken into a small room where a “Casting Director” sits behind a small desk with a laptop and a clipboard.  You may take one person into the room with you.  You then sing, a capella, any song you want.  Sometimes the Casting Director will stop you and give you some advice or feedback.  If the Casting Director thinks you are good enough, you get to go before the Producer.  If not, you are finished.  Only about 10% of those who audition make it to the Producer.

5. Practice in “The Coke Room”

If you’re one of the lucky ones, you are escorted to a sitting area called “The Coke Room”.  In this room, you are given an Ipod with just over 100 songs on it.  You have to choose one of these songs to sing, Karaoke style, in front of the Producer.  If you are selected to perform in a show, the song you have chosen will be the song you sing in the show and it is no longer available for someone else to choose on that day. You are given just a few minutes to listen to the song’s rendition and practice.  It is important to note that, for the sake of timing, most of the songs are cut short from their original length.

6. Pay attention to this Important Tip

Get a copy of the list of the 100 songs before you go into your audition.  (Cast Members have them outside the audition area.)  Choose two or three songs you can sing for the Producer before you even begin to audition.  This way, you can practice for the entire 10 minutes between auditioning for the Casting Director and auditioning for the Producer–instead of wasting your time trying to select a song.

The Producer

7.  Impress the “Producer”

Next you are ushered to the Producer, who also sits behind a small desk.  His laptop displays a video image of you and above his head is a large, flat screen monitor that projects the words for your chosen song.  Time is of the essence, so sing your heart out.  He decides whether or not you will make it onto the stage.  Punch It!  and  SHINE!

8. Market Your Performance

If you are chosen, you are given a time to return for preparation for your performance. If you have family or friends in your party, they are given preferred seating at your show.  In addition, until your “call” (theatre-speak for the time you are required to report to the theatre) you are given a placard announcing that you are performing and you are allowed to walk around the theme park and encourage everyone to come see your show and vote for you. Make the most of this—remember, the audience chooses the winner, so the more people there who know you better than the other performers, the better chance you have!

9. Prepare for Your Debut

You arrive to the theatre around one hour before your scheduled performance time.  You are given makeup, miked for sound, given vocal feedback from a professional voice coach and wired with a transponder.  (This is used to allow the spotlight to automatically follow you if you walk around the stage while you are singing.)

10. Don’t Worry About “The Judges”, Play to the Audience [i.e. “The REAL Judges!”]

During the show, you will be introduced and then you’ll strut your stuff.   In addition to spectacular lighting effects, there will be a video matching the song you are singing displayed behind you to enhance your performance.  This is no time to be shy.  PLAY IT BIG!  Move your arms, move your body, walk a little (if appropriate), connect with your audience, bare your soul, PUNCH IT! and SHINE!  At the end of each song, the judges give a review.  The host encourages the audience to cheer for all the good reviews and to boo any negative feedback. Make sure your family, friends and everyone else you encouraged to watch the show cheers loudly for you! These reviews are part of the show but have no direct impact on your chances of winning (unless the audience listens to them.)  So if the review is bad, use your body language and facial expressions to let the audience know they should ignore the judge and vote for you.  After the “judges” give their feedback for the final performer, it is the audience members who will select a number on their chair’s armrest corresponding with the performer they feel should win this round and go on to the finale 7pm showdown.  This is the vote that really counts!

11. Do it All Again at the Day’s Finale Show

At 7pm each day, all the winners from the previous 7 shows perform in a finale showdown. This show will crown the “Best Singer” of the day at the American Idol Experience at Disney.

12. Claim YOUR “Golden Ticket” to American Idol Fame

If you have gotten this far and are lucky enough to be selected as the “Best Singer” for the day at Disney’s American Idol Experience, you get a Golden Ticket. This ticket allows you to go to any American Idol audition for the real TV show and jump to the front of the line. To qualify for the Golden Ticket, however, you have to be between the ages of 16 and 28. Otherwise, you just win the privilege of saying you were the:

Best Singer for the day at Disney’s American Idol Experience!

And that, alone, is quite an accomplishment.

Sneak Peek of The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

February 13, 2009
Disneys American Idol Experience

Disney's American Idol Experience

This Valentine’s Day, The American Idol Experience premiers at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios.)

While I am quite possibly the only person in America never to have seen the hit Reality TV Show upon which this attraction is based, Number One Daughter has.  (And she’s a fabulous singer, if I do say so myself.)  Last week, she asked to audition for the theme park attraction.  I began planning the transition from Orlando vacation rentals business owner to Stage Dad!

By now, you probably have read her blog post about the audition experience.  She’s quite a kid!  (Excuse me, Sorry Amber, I meant to say, “She’s quite a young lady!”)  The Producer, on the other hand…Well, we’ll get to that later.

In the Disney version of the show, theme park guests audition to be contestants on the American Idol Experience.  Twenty one guests are chosen to perform each day (three at each of seven preliminary shows throughout the day) and the winner of each preliminary show goes on to compete at the finale show that evening.

The winner of the finale show is named “Best Singer” and receives a “Golden Ticket.”

A Golden Ticket will enable the winner to go to any American Idol audition for the real TV show and jump to the head of the line.  Disney describes it as the ultimate “Fast Pass.”

For those of you looking to be the next American Idol, check back next week for step-by-step instructions on turning your Orlando vacation into lucrative record deals.  For today, I just want to share some thoughts with you about the attraction.

Perhaps the true star of the American Idol Experience is the stage itself.  A Disney cast member said that it is as wide as the real American Idol stage, but not quite as tall.  The background video screen is the same height as the real one.  The theatre holds just over 1000 theme park guests.  The stage looks similar to what I have seen when I have walked through my living room and Number One Daughter is watching American Idol on TV.  There are three seats on stage right for the contestants and three seats and a table on stage left for the judges as well as a lot of room in between for the performances.

The performers are also wired with a transponder that is used by the fabulous lighting elements of the show.  When a performer walks around the stage during their performance, the transponder signals the lighting and the spotlights follow their movements.  One Disney cast member bragged that it was the most technologically advanced show at Disney.  After seeing the show, I’m a little skeptical about this claim; however, it is a very impressive set.

At the top of the hour, the theatre begins to fill and a Cast Member comes out to warm up the audience.  During the show I attended, he was, bar far, the highlight of the show!  He was witty, energetic–The perfect precursor to the rest of the show.

Next, the judges are introduced.  From the reaction of the audience, it is clear that they have adopted personas similar to the real judges on TV.  There’s even a judge in the attraction named “Simon” who is a cantankerous, petulant fellow with a British accent.  The judge he emulates on the real TV show is probably not a very popular or well known person…Just kidding!  I’m not quite that unaware of the American Idol phenomenon!

The “Simon” character appears to relish his role as the most negative of the judges.  The attention to rejection is obvious as the host works hard to get the audience to diminish the impact of negative feedback and to offer supportive cheers for each performer.

The preliminary shows last approximately 25 minutes.  Of course, Number One Daughter was WAY better than all three contestants that I got to see perform.  But I’m sure you knew that already.  (Oops, did I already say that in my last blog post?)

Although I didn’t go to the finale show, I understand that with seven performers (the winner of each preliminary show) it lasts 45 minutes and ends with the presentation of the Golden Ticket and a confetti shower.

As an audience member, the American Idol Experience is quite a show.  But I do believe this new attraction will cause a problem for Disney:  How will they deal with having to “reject” so many guests?  Disney specializes in positive, feel good guest interaction.  How are guests who don’t win “Best Singer” (or even make it past the Casting Director) going to respond to the rejection of American Idol?  With only twenty-one daily slots on the show and only one “Best Singer”, there will be a lot more losers than winners.

It will be interesting to see how Disney deals with this issue as they get feedback on how guests receive this attraction.  I know that Number One Daughter was deeply disappointed when she made it to the Producer, only to be told that she would not be appearing in the show.  And as her father, well, “disappointed” does not come close to expressing how I feel about the Producer who dared to…Oops, I digress.

Another interesting thing I observed was that if a guest made it beyond the “Casting Director,” they were put in an area Disney cast members were careful to refer to as “The Coke Room” to await the audition for the Producer.

When I watched Number One Daughter audition and then during the subsequent show itself, I deliberately looked for the words “Coke” or “Coca-cola” but couldn’t find them anywhere in the audition area or the actual theatre.

However, in addition to featuring “Coke Red” decor and the “Dynamic Ribbon Device” motif in the “Coke” room, you occasionally spot the familiar coke shaped bottle and glasses both in the “Coke” room and on the American Idol Experience set.

I got the impression that Coca-Cola has paid a lot of money to sponsor this show.  It appeared that they are following in the footsteps of the Nike “Swoosh” by attempting to create a subconscious connection between a shape (the “Dynamic Ribbon Device”) a color (bright red) certain glass and bottle designs (the familiar Coke bottle and Coke glass) and the Coke brand.

Detesting the shameless subconscious promotional attempt, I joked aloud that given the dubious reputation of Hollywood, I know what “The Coke Room” really stands for!  (If you don’t get that, perhaps it’s best if you don’t ask.)

[Note:  Upon further investigation I have discovered that, in fact, the words “Coco-Cola” do appear at various places–LanceAround 2/19/09]

I enjoyed the incredible sets and staging of this attraction.  The dramatic tension was also obvious, creating a very entertaining show.  Guests will really enjoy this latest offering from Disney, especially if they are already a fan of the TV show.  It obviously gives the feeling that you are at the actual TV show.  Given the TV show’s popularity, this attraction is sure to be a hit.

I only hope it lasts longer than the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire–Play it!” attraction that seemed to open just as the popularity of that TV show was waning and the attraction closed just a few short years later.

Not having seen the real American Idol TV show, this attraction helped me to understand its appeal.  If you are one of those who has been caught up in the American Idol phenomenon, this experience will not disappoint!  (Unless, of course, you were counting on getting on the stage only to have the Casting Director or Producer give you that dreaded shake of the head–Like one clueless Producer did with an excellent and deserving young singer who was, far and away, the BEST singer that ever walked into Hollywood Studios and who would have been the highlight of…Uh, Sorry, I seem to have lost my train of thought again!)

Anyway, after we watched the American Idol Experience, Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son, Number One Daughter and I strolled over to the Toy Story Mania Ride.  A cast member there was bragging that Toy Story Mania has become the busiest attraction at Disney World and I believe them.  It’s a fantastic ride that can be enjoyed by the entire extended family.

Best of all, it does not tell your Number One Daughter she can’t be on it!

Auditioning for American Idol at Disney

February 6, 2009

The American Idol Experience

The American Idol Experience

GUEST POST–On 14 February, The American Idol Experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios officially opens to the public.  Since we sell Disney Tickets at our business, my staff was offered the opportunity to see a preview of this new show.  Number One daughter turns 14 this month and she bravely decided she wanted to audition to be on the show.  Today, I took her for the audition.  In her own words, this is what the audition experience was like.  LanceAround

I was excited–Not knowing what to expect–Hoping to do well.

I was trying not to think about it very much.  When I came through the gates of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I tried not to think about getting before a person and singing for them.  I was focusing on the lyrics and I was making sure I had them down perfectly.  Then we started walking towards the audition and my nerves started to rise…

My nerves peaked until I got to the Producer.  Then, it was over.

I’m getting ahead of myself.  Here is what happened.  I walked into the audition.  I entered a small foyer and watched a short video.   Disney workers then guided me down a hallway and I waited until the first audition room was available.  My dad had to sign some paperwork.  If you are under 18, a parent has to go in with you.  You have to be 14 or older to audition.

My dad was in the room and that was kind of reassuring in a way, thinking about him, and not the audition.  He would encourage me to “punch it” and “shine.”  Good advice.

I was expecting to sing in front of three judges who would tell me to either go on the show or go away.  Instead, it was just one person.  The Casting Director was sitting behind a small desk with a computer and clipboard.  She asked me my name, age and what I was going to sing.  She told me to sing.

I began to sing.

She stopped me twice because I was having problems with my breathing techniques.  She asked me to relax because she could tell I was a little nervous.  That was nice of her.  I’m not sure many people would be willing to help me like she did.  She helped me to focus and to project my voice.

Enclosed in a small room…With a complete stranger…Asking me to perform for her…In short…Nerve racking!  I could barely keep my pitch in range and I faltered.  I failed.  I tried to keep in range without squeaking or going flat.

The Casting Director said that she was going to let me go on to the Producer, who is the higher judge.  I was very happy and proud that I got past her.  She said that only 10% of the people get past her, so I was even happier because I did not think I nailed that audition.  But I did!

She gave me a clipboard with my official American Idol number on it.  I walked out of the room and all the Disney workers clapped for me when they saw I had the clipboard.  I heard them do that for other people as well.

Number One Daughter gets her clip board

Number One Daughter gets her clipboard

They gave me an Ipod with over 100 songs.  I have to sing one, Karaoke style, for the Producer.  The list has all the songs you are allowed to choose for the actual show.  They do not repeat any of the songs for that day.  Once someone is selected to go on the show, they choose a song and no one else is allowed to pick that same song that day.

But when I went in front of the Producer, I choked, and it hurt my score.  It lost me my chance.

When you go to the Producer, you have to be able to perform.  You have to be a star, have pitch, punch it.  You have to, as my dad says, SHINE!

When I finished my song, he asked me a few questions.  He was very surprised to find out I was only 14.  He said that I have a lot of raw talent and I should practice more.  It was said in a very encouraging way–Not mean or hurtful–Very nice.

He said I was not right for the show and he shook my hand and I left.  The helpers guided me to the door and I left.

I was about to start crying.

I was disappointed.  I don’t know…It just kinda rose my…I kinda became hopeful…And kinda crashed.

Not a very large percentage that go to the Producer get to be on the show.  So I did not end up crying.  But I wanted to.

I turned my back and went back to my school.

Don’t be too disappointed if you don’t make it.  Don’t, like, hate Disney for it.  I’m thankful that I got as far as I got.  Yep!

LanceAround Notes:  Can you imagine how proud I am to be her father?  Please come back to LanceAroundOrlando on Sunday to read more about The American Idol Experience.  Oh, and by the way, she was MUCH better than the ones who were selected to perform in the actual show in front of the audience.  But I’m guessing you had figured that out already.

Kennedy Space Center

February 1, 2009
Apollo 1 Launch Pad

Apollo 1 Launch Pad

I stand under the concrete structure and stare through the enormous round hole above my head.  It is a simple edifice– four concrete pillars in each corner, about thirty feet apart and about twenty feet high, supporting  a concrete slab with a perfectly round hole about 20 feet in diameter above my head.  I can see the clear blue sky and white billowing clouds of a perfect Florida afternoon.

Tears come to my eyes.

I know that on Friday, 27 January 1967 at 6:31pm, a small spark in a tiny capsule approximately 100 feet above where I am now standing created a flash fire that took the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Deke Slayton was standing in the launch bunkhouse, just a few yards away.  He ran to the capsule, hoping against all reason that somehow the three men survived the fire.  Nowadays, the launch control room is located so far from the Shuttle, you could not possibly run there in just a few moments.  I am surprised to learn that for the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo flights, the bunkhouse was in a bunker right next to the rockets that are about to launch.

View of Mercury from Firing Room

View of Mercury from Firing Room

Our tour takes us into another small bunker and I peer through several layers of thick glass.  I put my hand under a Plexiglas buffer and literally click the same button clicked over 40 years ago to send one of the Mercury astronauts into space from the launch pad I can see just a few hundred feet outside the thick glass.  There is even a real, life sized Mercury Rocket sitting on the launchpad.  The tour guide describes the people and conditions that occupied this very same room during that historic moment when I was too young to even begin to comprehend what it all meant.

Number One Daughter clicks the button

#1 Daughter clicks the button

I have seen many specials, read many books and talked to many people about the NASA space flight programs–But today’s tour taught me unimaginable new things.  It is one of two “behind the scenes” tours that KSC (Kennedy Space Center) Visitor’s Complex offers.  Had my good friend, JediBFA, not insisted on taking this tour, I would have never known about them.

The KSC Visitor’s Complex combines all the essential elements of an ideal vacation spot.  There are interesting and historical things to see, just like a museum, an abundance of educational opportunities, the chance to meet with humans who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth”* and traveled into space, IMAX movies, guided tours, theme park-like attractions, a live-working launch complex and, of course, plenty of food and gift shop items to satisfy everyone.

In addition, there is a camp program, occasional shuttle & rocket launches, astronaut training simulations and the chance to have lunch with one of the astronauts.  The astronaut memorial and hall of fame are also close by.  To top it off, the pleasurable surf of Cocoa Beach is just a few minutes to the south.

The KSC visitor’s complex is open every day of the year, except for Christmas and during some launches.  It is much less expensive than a one day ticket to see the mouse, even when you add the extra for a behind the scenes tour or lunch with an astronaut.  With careful planning, you can even get a pass to be inside the center during a shuttle launch–The closest vantage point available for anyone who does not have a special connection to a NASA employee or high ranking politician!  But be careful–Be sure to plan your launch watch early in your vacation window so you can make the necessary adjustments should the launch experience one of their many, common delays.

As I watch my three children tour the space center with Mrs. LanceAround and JediBFA, I notice how the many displays catch their attention, invoke their imagination and create enthusiasm.  While I find the Space Center to be perfect for anyone traveling to Central Florida, parents with children would be remiss if they did not avail themselves of this great opportunity for educational fun.

Vacationing at KSC

Vacationing at KSC

KSC is located only 45 minutes away from the Theme Park area of Central Florida.

I highly recommend that you plan to take a break from the mouse for at least one day to see this extraordinary place that has witnessed pieces of humankind’s greatest history and yet still holds such promise for the future of all humankind!

* from the poem High Flight by John Magee, Jr.,  re-printed here in its entirety:

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.