Friday, March 28, 2008

"Topdog/Underdog" Closes at the Hattiloo This Weekend

Posted on Fri, Mar 28, 2008 at 4:00 AM

"Now I'm completely connected to the Hattiloo," says Ekundayo Bandele, founder and executive producer of the Edge district's ambitious Afro-centric playhouse.

Bandele has served as producer, director, dreamer, playwright, carpenter, custodian, and bartender. Now he can add actor to his resume. He's taken on the role of Booth in Suzan-Lori Parks' Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog.

Topdog/Underdog is a classically inspired tale of greed and unexpected reversals of fortune; an exciting dramatic exercise exploring the topography of racial identity in America. Its characters, Lincoln and Booth, were abandoned by their parents, and came up like weeds, working their respective hustles and coping with soul-crushing poverty.

Parks is jamming on a familiar theme here. Her 1995 script The America Play, introduced an African-American Abe Lincoln impersonator pimping himself out as the target in a live-action shooting gallery. Topdog/Underdog also features a black Lincoln. This time he's a reformed three-card Monte sharp who now makes his living at an arcade impersonating America's 16th president. Booth is a smalltime hoodlum who wants to throw cards like his brother.

The metaphors in Topdog/Underdog are big. The language is rich and challenging, and Parks is fearless, holding absolutely nothing back.

Topdog/Underdog is at Hattiloo Theatre (656 Marshall, 525-0009) through March 30th. Tickets are $15 for adults.

by Chris Davis

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ethanol's Growth Slow in Memphis

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 4:00 AM

When it comes to trends, Memphis isn't known for leading the way. In fact, the city has a reputation for being a little, well, fashionably late.

That's been the case with the availability of ethanol, a renewable fuel made from corn. Ethanol blends have been sold at fueling stations in Middle and East Tennessee for more than a year, but the biofuel has only recently become available in Memphis ...

Read the rest of Bianca Phillips' story on Ethanol in Memphis.

"Unnatural Causes" Debuts Thursday on WKNO

Posted By on Thu, Mar 27, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis is often listed as one of America's unhealthiest cities. And maybe, according to one new documentary, that has as much to do with socioeconomic inequality as it does with germs or biology.

Unnatural Causes, a seven-part documentary series, asks the question: "Is inequality making us sick?" and suggests that how we are born, live, and work can make us ill.

It's not necessarily a ground-breaking notion, but executive producer Larry Adelman notes that the United States has the worst disease outcomes of any industrialized nation and that even its middle class - yes, that’s probably you -- die, on average, about three years sooner than the rich.

The first section of the documentary will air tonight. The rest will air the next three consecutive Thursdays (April 3rd, 10th, and 17th) on WKNO at 9 p.m.

To learn more about the documentary, go to the filmmakers' website.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Craig Brewer to Direct "Gang Leader for a Day"

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Add another project to Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer's bulging "to do" list.

Film industry trade publication Variety reported earlier this week that Paramount Vantage, the studio that produced Brewer's last film, Black Snake Moan, has optioned the rights to Columbia University professor Sudhir Venkatesh's book Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets, with Brewer attached to direct.

Sopranos writer Michael Caleo has been tabbed to handle the script, with Stephanie Allain, Brewer's partner in his Southern Cross the Dog production company, set to produce.

But just because this project has hit the news this week, don't expect it to begin shooting any time soon. For Brewer, who says he and Allain sought out the project and brought it to Paramount Vantage, it's yet another project in the development pipeline. Gang Leader for a Day, which is about Venkatesh's years spent researching the Black Kings, a Chicago-area street gang that was involved in crack cocaine distribution, is in a similar place developmentally with another, previously announced Brewer project: the Charley Pride biopic he is developing with Hustle & Flow star Terrence Howard.

The rights to both films are owned by Paramount Vantage and are being developed via Brewer's production company, with Brewer set to direct. In both cases, screenwriters have been hired and Brewer is waiting on a completed script. In addition to these two projects, Brewer's long-anticipated country music film, Maggie Lynn, is also still awaiting a final studio go-ahead.

In all, Brewer has at least six projects in various states of development. Contacted this morning, Brewer, who declined to comment about the Variety story, said that he wouldn't want to guess which project would begin shooting first.

— Chris Herrington

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mayor Herenton as Emily Litella? He Won't Resign Without the Superintendent's Job in Hand.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2008 at 4:00 AM

How many clichés come to mind? Like the one about "shooting first and asking questions later." It turns out, according to Amos Maki of The Commercial Appeal, who ran into Mayor Willie Herenton Monday morning at a photo op in the Hall of Mayors at City Hall, that the mayor won’t resign, after all, if he doesn't get the school superintendent's job.

It reminds us of Emily Litella, the old Saturday Night Live character, played by the late Gilda Radner. "Emily" would go on in high dudgeon about something or other, then realize she was off track or had the subject wrong or was speaking prematurely, and finish by saying, "Never mind!"

The School Board has a self-imposed deadline of July to find a permanent superintendent, and Herenton's announced (and highly provisional) "resignation" date is July 31.

Cultural Development Foundation hosts "Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers"

Posted on Mon, Mar 24, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 40th anniversary of his death, the Cultural Development Foundation of Memphis (CDFM) has organized a progressive dinner program called "Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers" that encourages folks to extend dinner invitations to others from racially and religiously diverse groups.

The plan was set in motion by Rebecca Edwards, executive director of CDFM, with a goal of having 40 dinner parties held across the city. The hope is that many of these parties will have already taken place by April 5th when CDFM will present a concert by Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Nancy Wilson at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Edwards says that since many couples will already be familiar with one another from the dinner they'll be able to enjoy the show as friends. She says whether the dinners are held before or after the show isn't important as long as they happen.

Edwards says 40 years after Dr. King's death, his dreams are still alive. "Dr. King's goal was to get people of all races, creed, or color to join hands. As Memphians, we still struggle with that," she says. "We want people to stop talking about it and do it -- to come together and start sharing." She hopes as an end result people will gain a new set of friends.

Wilson's performance Saturday will include some of the most beloved music from Dr. King's time. The opening act for Wilson will be She Said/She Says: The History and Status on Women in Jazz.

Edwards sees the show as a nice end to CDFM's 2007-2008 season and a great way to introduce "Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers" to a bigger group of people. Anyone interested in hosting a dinner party should call Edwards at 312-9787.

By Shara Clark

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anti-War Protesters Arrested in Corker's Office

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Seven people were arrested yesterday for refusing to leave U.S. Senator Bob Corker's Memphis office inside the Peabody Place complex. The seven were part of a nonviolent "die-in" protest to mark the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War.

In August, the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center demanded that Corker hold a town hall meeting in Memphis to allow constituents to express concerns over the war. The group claims Corker's office didn't provide response to repeated letters and phone calls, but Corker's spokesperson Laura Lefler says their records show the office did respond to each of the group's requests

MSPJC executive director Jacob Flowers and volunteer Ceylon Mooney went upstairs to Corker's office. The two had an appointment to discuss the town hall meeting request with a member of Corker's staff. While they waited in the lobby, Flowers and Mooney read the names of American and Iraqi victims of the war.

"They called security and the Memphis Police. But then Corker's [Washington] D.C. office called and instructed them not to have us arrested," said Flowers.

After the meeting with Corker's aide, Flowers and Mooney refused to leave the office until they received a fax from Corker agreeing to a town hall meeting. Several protesters joined them from outside.

"We were told we could wait until 5 p.m. and that we were welcome to read the names [of the war victims], but the senator would not hold a town hall meeting in Memphis," said Flowers.

"We welcomed them and I believe we served them refreshments," said Laura Lefler, a spokesperson in Corker's Washington press office. "We even allowed them to use our phone to order pizza."

"We certainly respect their opinions, as we do all of our constituents," said Lefler. "But they have to respect our office hours and the policy of the building where our office is located."

According to Memphis Police spokesperson Monique Martin, Peabody Place security called South Main officers to arrest the remaining protesters.

Flowers (27), Mooney (33), Jessica Butterworth (32), Kathleen Kruzek (42), Peter Gathje (50), Dennis Paden (50), and George Grider (67) were arrested around 5:30 p.m. and charged with criminal trespassing. All were released on their own recognizance from 201 Poplar early this morning.

--Bianca Phillips

Mayor Willie Herenton to Resign, Effective July 31st

Congressional Race, City School Superintendency, Legal Woes All Suspected as Reasons

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

At mid-afternoon on Thursday, all of downtown Memphis was suddenly beset with a rumor -- quickly confirmed by word of a resignation letter signed by Mayor Willie Herenton and addressed to city CAO Keith McGhee -- that Memphis' fifth-term mayor, elected again only last October, intended to resign, effective July 31.

As the news began to sink in, even close associates of the mayor were puzzled. One of the closest, Shelby County Commissioner Sidney Chism, confided, however, that Herenton had recently discussed with him a desire to serve in two non-mayoral offices -- those of Memphis City Schools superintendent and 9th District congressman.

"I surely didn't expect anything to happen this soon," said Chism, a political adviser and confidante of Herenton's for two decades. "And I don't know anything for sure. But he talked to me about doing both those things just after he got reelected." As to why the mayor, who served a lengthy term as schools superintendent in the 1970s and 1980s, would be interested in returning to that job (now held by interim superintendent Dan Ward), Chism said only, "Well, you know, education's always been closest to his heart."

As the rumor of Herenton's departure was spreading Thursday, speculation about the superintendency had been circulated right along with it. But that Herenton might be interested in running for the congressional seat now held by Democrat Steve Cohen was something of a bombshell. "Well, he talked to me about it," said Chism, who repeated, "I just didn't think he'd be doing anything else quite this soon."

But Chism made one thing clear, confirming a suspicion that many observers had speculated on. "He didn't really want to serve again as mayor for a fifth term, and, if people had just let him alone, he wouldn't have run. But, as it was, he just wanted to prove none of those folks could beat him." Herenton defeated former City Council member Carol Chumney and former MLGW president Herman Morris in a hotly cntested three-way race last fall.

And there was other speculation, as well. The Commercial Appeal, in a brief item, suggested to its readers that a federal grand jury looking into Herenton's relationship to an unnamed city contractor may have served subpoenas at MATA's offices.

Rumors of various legal problems have dogged the mayor for several years, but nothing has yet materialized as certain.

More to come on this story as details emerge.

Justin Timberlake Donates $200,000 to Memphis Music Organizations

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Memphis native and music star Justin Timberlake has made two separate donations of $100,000 to the Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum and to the Memphis Music Foundation. Timberlake, in Memphis for filming on the independent movie, The Open Road, presented a check to Rock 'n' Soul Museum executive director, John Doyle, and museum Board Chairman, Joel Hobson, and to Dean Deyo, president of the Memphis Music Foundation on Thursday.

From the press release: Timberlake, 27, was born in Memphis and grew up in Millington. Since rising to super stardom as an award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and actor, he has continued to promote and support his hometown, including making an earlier financial gift to E.E. Jeter Elementary School, which he attended, to support music education. "Music education and keeping the legacy of Memphis Music alive has always been important to me," said Timberlake. "That is why I will always continue to support my home town the same way they have always supported me."

The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum will utilize the gift to further achieve its mission of "telling the story of Memphis music and perpetuating its legacy" and to advance music education for students throughout Shelby County.

"Like musicians around the globe, he has always recognized the musical magic of this city, and he has never stopped promoting it," said Doyle. "He has never stopped giving back to the community, to the local music industry, and to young people. The museum is honored by his generosity, honored by his recognition of the museum's message, and honored that he is from Memphis."

Herenton's Bombshell Rocked Nearly Everyone

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Willie Herenton's forthcoming July 31st resignation came as a surprise to local business leaders, school board consultants, and even close associates at City Hall.

On Thursday morning, developer Henry Turley was meeting with Jack Belz, Scott Ledbetter, Robert Lipscomb, Tom Marshall, Tony Bologna, and representatives of St. Jude Children's Hospital and Ducks Unlimited about Bass Pro and The Pyramid. Turley said he had no idea Herenton was planning a surprise announcement, and he thinks at least some of the others at the meeting were also in the dark.

"It's the damndest thing I ever heard," said Turley, who has worked on various downtown projects with Herenton and Lipscomb for the last 16 years.

Turley said Lipscomb left the meeting for about five minutes at one point, but he made no mention of Herenton when he returned.

Lipscomb said the announcement had been in the rumor mill for about two weeks but he did not get official word until Thursday afternoon.

I don't get involved in politics," he said. "I just work."

Mayoral special assistant Pete Aviotti said Herenton told his top staff Thursday morning, but drafted a letter to chief administrative office Keith McGee earlier this week. The mayor met with City Council chairman Scott McCormick on Thursday around noon to tell him of his plans before they hit the news media.

"The letter contains a Bible verse but I can't remember the exact one," said Aviotti. "He (the mayor) believes the Lord has given him the right direction."

Aviotti said Herenton will apply to be the next superintendent of the Memphis City Schools -- the position he held for 11 years before becoming mayor in 1992. "He told me he has always liked challenges and feels like going back in education system will give him a challenge to bring it up to where it ought to be," Aviotti said.

Herenton plans to stay in the mayor's office until July 31st, at which time McCormick, as chairman of the City Council, will become mayor for 20 days. After that, there could be a special election or a mayoral election in November in conjunction with the presidential election. It would in all probability be too late to put the city mayoral special election on the ballot with the county and congressional elections in August.

"I'm going to be mayor for a maximum of 20 days," McCormick said, adding that he was surprised at the mayor's timing. "The rumor has been floating around that he would resign this term," said McCormick. "I thought it would be in year three or four of this term. I was a little caught off guard that he is doing it at this time."

Herenton has not officially resigned, and it is not clear how or when he intends to do that. In theory, at least, he could change his mind at any time. But McCormick said the mayor gave him "every indication that he intends to resign" and apply for the superintendent's job.

The school board has hired a consulting firm, Ray and Associates, Inc., to conduct a national search for the next superintendent. On Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m., consultants Al Johnson and Carl Davis were at Manassas High School with four people who showed up for a meeting to give community input. When that meeting broke up, Johnson headed for Whitehaven High School and Davis drove to Craigmont High School. In the middle of a meeting with five community members, one of them, Stephanie Fitzgerald, got a call on her cell phone and announced that Herenton was resigning. Davis finished the meeting and proceeded to the next one at Cordova High.

Davis said the school board's charge was to conduct a national search, which was expected to draw about 100 applicants. The field will be narrowed to about 15, then to six or eight candidates who will be interviewed by the board.

At the Manassas High School meeting, Johnson said the job will probably pay about $260,000 per year. He said the board is looking for a candidate who can win unanimous approval.

"It has to be nine to nothing," he said. "At five-to-four, an outstanding candidate will not take the job."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Flyer Poll: Should Our Law-Enforcement Agencies Be Consolidated?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

The City Council's public safety committee took the first step toward possible law enforcement consolidation Tuesday.

The committee approved a resolution brought to them by County Commissioner Mike Carpenter to create the Memphis and Shelby County Public Safety Commission. Under a proposal by Carpenter, that seven-member commission would last only three years and would be responsible for facilitating talks between the Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.

"Whether you're a proponent of merging the two law-enforcement agencies or whether you're an opponent of merging the two law enforcement agencies, this doesn't do it," Carpenter said.

Neither side can be forced to agree to anything, but both the sheriff's office and the police department have said they are willing to consider functional consolidation of specific tasks. Do you think law-enforcement agencies in Shelby County should be consolidated?

ArtsMemphis Web Finalists

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2008 at 4:00 AM

What do Wild Bill's, Ballet Memphis, and the West Clinic have in common?

They are all featured in films from ArtsMemphis' "Our Vibe. Our City On Film" contest. Posted at, the contest's 12 semi-finalist films each showcase a particular aspect of the Memphis arts scene, from music to movies to sculpture to dance.

"Memphis is a vibrant arts community unlike any other and world-renowned for its 'vibe,'" ArtsMemphis CEO Susan Schadt said in a statement. "We hoped that the short films would showcase and highlight some of these facets and we weren't disappointed."

The public is invited to view the films online and vote on their favorites.

In an awards ceremony on April 30th, the top five films will be screened and winners announced. First prize is $2,000 and an entry into October's Indie Memphis Film Festival. Second prize is $750 and third prize is $500.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Herenton Proposes Closing Five Branch Libraries

Posted By on Tue, Mar 18, 2008 at 4:00 AM

In an executive session with the City Council today, Memphis mayor Willie Herenton proposed closing five libraries and four community centers as of July 1, 2008.

The closures -- including the downtown Cossitt branch, as well as the Highland, Levi, Gaston Park, and Poplar-White Station libraries -- would result in a $1.5 million to $2 million savings to the city.

"We have a good library system, but I want it to get better. It's not as efficient as I want it to get," the mayor told the council.

In December, long-time library head Judith Drescher was not reappointed to her position. Former Public Services and Neighborhoods director Keenon McCloy was appointed in Drescher's place. (Read previous Flyer stories about the situation.)

--Mary Cashiola

Friday, March 14, 2008

Council May Re-establish Animal Shelter Board

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Since its formation in November, the Memphis Animal Coalition (MAC) has been pushing for numerous changes at the city animal shelter -- expanded hours, a new director, a lower euthanasia rate, and the re-establishment of an animal shelter advisory board to oversee policies at the shelter.

The city charter allows for such a board, but the last one was disbanded in 1991 under then-Mayor Dick Hackett's administration. City Council member Shea Flinn is sponsoring a resolution to bring the board back. The issue will be discussed in a city council committee meeting on Tuesday, March 18th.

"What's been revealed shows that we need some eyes and ears watching what's going on at the shelter," said Flinn, who has two rescued dogs. "I think having concerned citizens monitoring this is to the benefit of the community."

The seven-member, mayor-appointed board would be responsible for overseeing animal shelter policies and procedures, setting fees, and investigating complaints of cruelty at the shelter.

"It'd be a means of external review that is not presently occurring at the shelter," said MAC member Lisa Trenthem.

MAC was formed in response to a high euthanasia rate at the Memphis shelter. Over 80 percent of the animals taken in last year were killed. Read more on animal shelter issues.

--Bianca Phillips

Have a High-Brow Weekend in Memphis

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2008 at 4:00 AM

Tired of hearing the same old bands in the same old bars? Looking for a sophisticated way to spend the weekend? Calendar editor Bianca Phillips has a few suggestions for high-brow weekend fun:

Local artist Tim Kinard produces nude human sculptures in often-precarious positions. Check out Kinard's work in "World's Smallest Man," opening at the P&H Cafe Friday from 8-10 p.m.

Or if the written word is more your style, hit up the release party for the spring edition of The Pinch, a University of Memphis-sponsored literary journal. The party starts Friday at 6 p.m. at L Ross Gallery.

Got kids? Celebrate Easter early with the Dixon Gallery and Garden's annual egg hunt on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Reservations are required, so you might want to take care of that, like, now.

Grab a quick bite of free vegetarian food samples at the Great American Meatout Day celebration at Wild Oats on Saturday. Samples of faux meats and information on going veg will be available in the community room from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

World-famous string group Kronos Quartet plays the Germantown Performing Arts Centre Saturday night at 8 p.m.

And finally, though it's not exactly "high-brow," don't miss the campy Great American Trailer Park Musical at Circuit Playhouse. The show runs nightly throughout the weekend.

For more, check out the Flyer's searchable online calendar.

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