Buzzworm news briefs

A chip off the old tree

Over the holidays, I heard about a community that recycles its Christmas trees by hauling them to the local zoo and letting the resident elephants chow down on them.

Henderson County is a bit short on elephants, but it does boast an annual Christmas-tree recycling project coordinated by the nonprofit Environmental and Conservation Organization. This year’s event is scheduled for Saturday Jan. 10, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Jackson Park. Trees will be chipped into fresh mulch that’s available for free to the public. ECO volunteers will direct traffic, help unload trees, assist folks gathering mulch, and serve up hot cider. People wanting mulch should bring a box or bag.

Trees can be dropped off beforehand at a designated site outside the administration building in Jackson Park. No balled trees, wreaths or greenery with wire will be accepted.

For details, call the ECO office (828-692-0385).

— Lisa Watters

Stage coaches

Got an itch to act or direct? Highland Repertory Theatre has teamed up with A-B Tech to offer a pair of classes in theater fundamentals. Both courses will be offered at the Asheville campus (340 Victoria Road) on Saturday afternoons from 12-3 p.m.

The first class, which starts Jan. 24, is aimed at aspiring directors. Each student will get the chance to direct a 10-minute scene. Instructor Andrew Gall, Highland’s artistic director, has been directing professionally for nearly a decade. Since moving to the Asheville area in 2001, he has directed more than a dozen local productions.

Acting and Performance Technique, taught by Gall and local acting professional Peter Savage, will focus on the process of preparing a role for performance. During the class, which begins March 20, each student will work on both a monologue and a two-person scene. Savage, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from UNC-Chapel Hill, has appeared in productions in New York City and is a regular with the popular Asheville-based improv-comedy group The Oxymorons. He has also appeared in productions by Highland Rep and the North Carolina Stage Company.

For more information or to register, call A-B Tech (254-1921, ext. 472).

— Lisa Watters

Food fight

My New Year’s resolution is a chewy one: Eat more cake. And to start things off right, I plan to gobble my way through the 12th annual Culinary Showcase at the Grove Park Inn, scheduled for Thursday Jan. 8 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

This year’s festivities, following a Winter Carnival theme, will include food from 24 local restaurants and caterers, a wine tasting, a craft-beer sampling, gourmet coffees, live entertainment by Westsound, and a host of raffle prizes. No funnel cakes and cotton candy at this carnival — instead, you can ride the food train from stop to stop, visiting tables hosted by such acclaimed local eateries as the Savoy, the Flying Frog and The Grape Escape as they duke it out for top honors. You can even try your luck at the Harrah’s table, where the casino will be defending its share of the Best Entree crown from last year (see photo).

More than $2,000 in prizes will be awarded for Best Appetizer, Best Dessert, Best Organic, Best Service, Most Creative Display and the granddaddy of them all, the Asheville Culinary Cup (for Best of Show). Attendees can also cast their votes for the coveted People’s Choice Gold and Silver awards, as well as the People’s Choice Wine and Beer awards.

Tickets for the event ($35) are available from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce (258-6114) or online (www.ashevillechamber.org). And if you’re smart, you’ll get in line ahead of me.

— Rachelle Sorensen

A hill of beans

There are the purely personal New Year’s resolutions (floss daily!) and then there are the kind of broader, coordinated efforts that aim to make the world, not merely one’s mouth, a better place.

In the latter category, Asheville’s Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church made good on its commitment to collect 2,003 pounds of dried beans last year for MANNA FoodBank, which distributes donated edibles to agencies serving needy folks throughout the region.

Asbury’s final 250-pound donation was dropped off Dec. 15 at the Ingles Giving Tree in the Asheville Mall, putting the church at least 200 pounds over its target goal, reports MANNA staffer (and congregation member) Kitty Schaller.

Now the congregation is hoping other faith groups will follow suit.

“We’re throwing down the challenge to other churches,” Schaller proclaims. “That’s a New Year’s resolution any church could make, and we’d be glad to support them in doing it.”

The folks at Asbury decided to focus on protein because such donations are hard to come by, says Schaller.

Last year marked Asbury’s third such campaign. In 2001, members celebrated the church’s 200th anniversary (and the new millennium) by collecting 2,001 pounds of tuna for MANNA. In ’02, the chosen protein source was peanut butter.

And along with doing good, church members also manage to work in a bit of fun. Congregation member Merritt Moseley set the 2001 fund drive theme song, “One Ton of Tuna,” to the tune of “Guantanamera”; the 2003 beans jingle was sung to “Dry Bones.”

For the new year, Asbury has already decided to collect 2,004 pounds of beef stew, reports Schaller.

So what rhymes with beef stew?

“That’s Merritt’s department,” she declares.

To take up the protein challenge, contact Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church (253-0765) or MANNA FoodBank (299-FOOD).

— Tracy Rose

Banking on talent

A few weeks ago, I unexpectedly found myself seated in between a pirate and a gorilla. I was a last-minute extra, decked out in a black bowler hat and sporting a hastily drawn mustache and goatee. The gorilla, the pirate and I — along with 20 other costumed folk — were all playing audience members on the set of a ’70s game show (a spoof on Let’s Make a Deal) that had been built at the North Carolina Stage Company.

Perhaps more surprising than my being there was the fact that this wasn’t a scene for a movie or even a TV show — it was part of a series of videos designed to help BB&T employees learn more about their company’s compensation-and-benefits program.

And the woman playing the pirate turned out to be Laurie Hardman, the production manager for Ironwood Media.

A week later, I talked with her to find out more about the project.

When BB&T tapped the multimedia production-and-design company to produce the series, Ironwood’s creative team came up with some concepts, launching a back-and-forth process with the client that eventually produced an acceptable script. “BB&T, I have to say, has been very open-minded in working with us to come up with a creative story line,” said Hardman.

The story follows Phoebe (played by local actress Lorraine Larocque, who recently appeared in Highland Repertory Theatre’s production of Dracula) in her first day of work at BB&T. There she meets Kat, her orientation leader (played by local actress/singer Kat Williams) and Kat’s sidekick, a Monty Hall-inspired character named Bill (played by local actor Graham Hacket).

A series of fantasy segments help Kat and Bill tell Phoebe about the different aspects of BB&T’s compensation-and-benefits program. To help explain the vacation package, there’s a beach scene (shot at Lake Lure); for the health plan, there’s the Let’s Make a Deal scene; for the retirement fund, a retirement party; and so on. There are even three musical numbers.

“It’s an ambitious project, for sure,” conceded Hardman with a laugh. “But it’s been great fun. … Another good thing about it is that it’s utilizing a lot of good talent in Asheville.”

Those talented folks include freelance camera operators Greg Hudgins, Dave McDonald and Shane Peters; freelance writer Lauren Fortuna, who wrote the script; freelance sound engineer Rebecca MacNeice; production designer/art director Gayle Wurthner; choreographer Susan Collard of Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre; and Williams, who wrote the music and lyrics.

And the collaboration, says Hardman, proved fruitful. “We’ve worked hard on this, but it was very satisfying to see it come together, see it happen, and for everybody to walk away very happy with the experience.”

Hardman says she hopes the BB&T project will bring more such work their way. “We’ve done some educational videos in the health-care industry, and we’d like to do more on the corporate level. We’re hoping this will sort of propel us forward — and showcase that it really can be done here in Asheville.”

One of Ironwood’s strengths, she notes, “is the creativity we bring to these kinds of projects. Many times, the material to be delivered is a bit dry, so we create a way to deliver it in an attention-grabbing and entertaining way, which increases [viewers’] retention.”

To learn more about Ironwood Media, call 252-2677, or visit their Web site (www.ironwoodmedia.com).

— Lisa Watters

The lowdown on the high-rise

Faced with widespread and growing opposition to a multi-story commercial-building project proposed for city park property at the intersection of College and Market streets and Patton Avenue, the Grove Park Inn issued a New Year’s Eve press release canceling its plans.

On Nov. 20, hundreds of area residents attended a League of Women Voters forum on the matter to express their displeasure with the plan. (See “Thumbs Down at High-Rise Forum,” Dec. 3 Xpress.) More recently, after People Advocating Real Conservancy (a grassroots activist group) called for a GPI boycott, hundreds of yard signs began sprouting up around the region (including one strategically situated directly opposite the vehicular exit from the Asheville Regional Airport).

GPI President/CEO Craig Madison, however, denied that public opinion had influenced his decision. In a written statement quoted in the press release, he said, “The reason for not exercising the land option was solely and purely a financial one and was reached after careful consideration.”

— Cecil Bothwell

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