A Katrina Story of Hope, Support and Sugarcane
Like a good many responsible adults, MICHAEL TISSERAND strived to put his life in order: He and his wife moved to a specific city neighborhood to get their two young children into a great public school, they developed close personal connections among friends and work colleagues and he immersed himself in his adopted hometown's culture and history.
And then disaster struck. No, not illness or layoffs or anything responsible adults can plan for. Tisserand's world came crashing down when a low pressure system blew through his city one morning in August 2005.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, where Tisserand was editor of Gambit Weekly (like CityBeat a member of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies), he and his wife evacuated the family to a friend's house near Lafayette in Southwestern Louisiana as they'd done in previous storms. They had no idea their lives were about to change forever.
Tisserand has captured the story of his family's struggle to rediscover order in the midst of chaos in Sugarcane Academy (Harcourt), which he will read from and sign Friday at Joseph-Beth. The book's title comes from the name of a makeshift school Tisserand and other New Orleans expatriates started to keep their kids occupied and to provide a sliver of normalcy. They recruited the first grade teacher from their beloved New Orleans school to move near them and run the one-room operation.
Now relocated to Chicago, missing New Orleans as much as anyone can, Tisserand finds himself a wandering touchstone for readers' emotions about Katrina.
"In my book tour, I find that about half the people who talk with me have some direct connection to New Orleans," he says, "and the other half are teachers. There are not two more maligned groups than New Orleanians and public school teachers."
Tisserand and family recently spent the month of July in New Orleans, enrolling the kids in local camps and reconnecting with friends and with the city. Life on the ground there is markedly different from what the national media portray.
"Two competing feelings are present in New Orleans," he says. "There's a real atmosphere of fear there, fear of the breakdown of social order. Everyone knows the city is one bad storm away from total destruction. ... At the same time, there's an incredible amount of energy and activity being thrown into rebuilding the city, the neighborhoods and the schools. People know they have to do it themselves."
While in town in July, Tisserand says he and the kids looked in on their Sugarcane Academy teacher, Paul Reynaud. He was getting his first grade classroom ready for the upcoming school year. It was almost like Katrina had never happened. Almost.
Tisserand signs his book at 7 p.m. Friday at Joseph-Beth. 513-396-8960. (See Literary.) — JOHN FOX
Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's reputation is based on several surreal, comic scripts. So when RABBIT HOLE, his story about a family overwhelmed by the death of a child, debuted in 2005, many wondered what had changed. "I noticed that my name started to creep up in other people's reviews to describe a very specific kind of play," he says. "Instead of 'wacky' or 'absurd,' they would say 'like a David Lindsay-Abaire play.' Of course, it was very flattering to be summoned as an adjective, but it was a little bit limiting. I wondered what it would be like to write a naturalistic play. Could I even do it?" The simple answer is "yes." Rabbit Hole won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and it's the season opener this week for Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati featuring two of Cincinnati's best professional actors, Annie Fitzpatrick and Drew Fracher, as the grieving parents. (See more conversation with the playwright here.) Lindsay-Abaire warns directors, "It's a sad play. Don't make it any sadder than it needs to be." Rest assured that ETC's D. Lynn Meyers will find the right balance. $27-$35. 513-421-3555. (See Onstage.) — RICK PENDER
JO KOY is a patient man. After 10 years in stand-up comedy, his career got a sudden boost after he appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in 2005. The 34-year-old became only the third comedian in the show's history to receive a standing ovation. His steady rise continues, and later this year Comedy Central will present his half-hour special. "My son's 2," he tells the audience. "It's like living with a crazy midget. Crazy people talk to themselves, laugh at their own jokes. They poop on themselves for no reason. That's my son." In reality, the younger Koy has quite an influence on his old man. "A lot of people ask me who my inspiration is," he recently posted on his blog, "and I always tell them the same thing: It's my son. He's the reason why I am who I am and do the things I do." Koy performs at The Funny Bone on the Levee Thursday through Sunday. $15. 859-957-2000. (See Onstage.) — P.F. WILSON
Wars never end — not so long as the people touched by them live on. Their remembering and telling make history accessible. Few filmmakers have mastered the art of history as successfully as Ken Burns, whose seven-part series, THE WAR, debuts Sept. 23 on WCET (Channel 48). The film tells the story of World War II through the personal accounts of a handful of people from four American towns. Branches of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County are showing previews: 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Monfort Heights, 2 p.m. Saturday in Blue Ash, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Northside, 12:30 p.m. Sept. 22 in Madeira and 2:30 p.m. Sept. 22 in Cheviot. The program includes a 15-minute video about the library's Veterans History Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Free. www2.cincinnatilibrary.org/vets. (See Events.) — GREGORY FLANNERY
The CINCINNATI SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA's opening weekend promises to set the bar incredibly high for the remainder of the 2007-08 season. The CSO kicks off its amazing 113th season with Maestro Paavo Jarvi conducting a powerful program of Wagner and Beethoven, with stellar accompaniment from renowned pianist AWADAGIN PRATT and our own spectacular May Festival Chorus under the skilled direction of Robert Porco. Pratt's credentials include his 1992 win at the prestigious Naumburg Competition — the first African-American instrumentalist to take first prize in the international challenge — and being awarded the Avery Fisher Career Grant two years later. Pratt has five CDs in his catalog, has performed internationally and collaborated with symphonies and chamber groups around the country. For the past three years, he's been assistant professor of piano and artist-in-residence at UC's College-Conservatory of Music. Opening weekend festivities include complimentary champagne cocktails before both concerts and CD signings with Jarvi and Pratt after, plus a beer-themed pre-show event Friday. $19-$97.75. 513-381-3300. (See Onstage.) — BRIAN BAKER
BALLET TECH CINCINNATI gives an old classic new rhythm by setting the traditional ballet, Sleeping Beauty, with Tchaikovsky's famous score to the jazzy sounds of the Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy Electric Jazz and Student Orchestra. The storyline of THE JAZZY SLEEPING BEAUTY is the same, but choreographer Waverly Lucas II of Atlanta's Ballethnic Dance Company has changed the moves, grabbing inspiration from everything from classical ballet to modern dance. Best known for his work on The Urban Nutcracker (seen in Atlanta), an adaptation of a holiday tradition, his style meshes well with ballet tech's goal to entertain and inspire through diverse and innovative performances. And the music isn't the only thing getting an update. Ballet tech is joined by guest dancers from the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and the Ballethnic Dance Company, though hometown dancer Epiphany Davis plays the title character. "While the core of the story is universal, how it's told is not and we felt that making the story relevant to a larger, ethnically diverse community was important," says Nena Gilreath, co-founder and co-artistic director of Ballenthic Dance Company. 8 p.m. Friday and 2 & 8 p.m. Saturday. $26. Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater. 513-621-ARTS. — MAIJA ZUMMO
RICH FRANKLIN is back in town, this time promoting an endeavor that doesn't involve punching faces and kicking people in their legs. The Cincinnati native and three-time world middleweight UFC champion will premier the pilot episode of his docu-drama AMERICAN FIGHTER at the Madison Theater. The first episode is the story of area resident Joe Garvey and his fight against paralysis after an ATV accident caused doctors to doubt he'd ever walk again. Future episodes will also focus on everyday people who demonstrate a fighting spirit in their lives. The premier will be hosted by comedian Steve Caminiti and include live music, a meet-and-greet with Franklin and other UFC fighters and a silent auction to benefit Franklin's Keep It in the Ring Foundation. There will be a cash bar, but please be careful not to overdo it: Professional fighters will be on-hand to whoop your ass if you get too rowdy. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the screening is at 8. Tickets are $25 or two for $45 and can be purchased at www.madisontheateronline.com. (See Events.) — DANNY CROSS
A new gallery will appear Friday at 424 Findlay St. in Over-the-Rhine, a space long anchored by Carol Solway Gallery: COUNTRY CLUB, the new brainchild of Matt Distel and Christian Strike. Though the gallery won't truly launch until late October, they decided to have a soft opening to offer a taste of what they have in store. To celebrate, the entire building comes alive Friday 5-8 p.m. with open studios, new shows and the inaugural exhibition of an alternative space on the third floor called AISLE. Aisle's first exhibition features photographs by HARVEY OSTERHOUDT, who features deserted outdoor locations (industrial, domestic and landscape). Several artists who belong to this neighborhood's art tribe will have their studios open to the public, including RHONDA GUSHEE, who takes great pleasure in explaining the processes of making her complex raku clay pieces, and MARY BARR RHODES and her faux-regalia jewel-tone paintings. Solway Gallery will show the work of BETTY WOODMAN, GREGORY THORP and IK-JOONG KANG, whose brilliant and benevolent installations commonly involve 3-by-3 inch elements. 513-621-0069. (See Art.) — MATT MORRIS
The WESTON ART GALLERY opens its new season tonight with two exhibitions. The first is a set of site-specific installations by ROBERT MCCONAUGHY, Ecstasy and Odyssey. The work will take over the lobby, adding a bit of nature to the glass-encased space. McConaughy is a Cincinnati-based sculptor who transforms simple materials into daring, twisting lines and falling rope or twine fountains. Also opening is JANE BIRCH COCHRAN's Pushing Buttons, a collection of art quilts. Textiles have long been relegated to a made-up little art category called "craft," but Cochran's decisive, intricate and smart fabric work debunks any divisional myth between art and craft. Her quilts, though playing with the idea of "women's work," take the level of textile art to a beautiful extreme. Opening reception is 6-9 p.m. 513-977-4165. (See Art.) — LAURA JAMES
For some music fans, a night out to hear something different might mean a DJ who plays just three Beyonce songs per night or maybe a cover band that plays music only from the '80s. Ooh, cutting edge. If you have friends like that, drag them out Saturday for a genuinely unique musical experience that utilizes an interactive visual component, when the Contemporary Arts Center hosts renowned musicians-as-artistes for its living, breathing THE BLUES QUARTET exhibition. Artist Joo Paulo Feliciano designed the project, and for Saturday's show he'll be joined by three other musicians for a first-time collaboration: drummer Trevor Tremaine from Lexington experimental music heroes Hair Police (he's also played with local underground music icon C. Spencer Yeh in his Burning Star Core touring band), Portuguese guitarist/electronicist Rafael Toral and Lee Renaldo, an innovative guitarist who's best known as a founding member of Avant Punk legends Sonic Youth. The experimental supergroup will "jam" with Feliciano's installation (pictured) in the CAC lobby starting at 8 p.m. Tickets are just $7 ($5 for CAC members). Your friend might be back at the meat-market clubs listening to "Blister in the Sun" covers next weekend, but at least you'll know you tried to expand his or her mind and ears. 513-345-8405. (See Art or Music.) — MIKE BREEN