Buzzworm news briefs

You have a right not to remain silent

Members of Asheville Theatre

Doing your thing: Members of Asheville Theatre turn audience stories into drama. photo by Jonathan Welch

International Human Rights Day is observed each Dec. 10 to focus attention on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The celebration dates back to 1950, when the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution inviting all states and interested organizations to formally recognize the date.

As part of the international celebration, the Human Rights Team of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville will host a performance by the Asheville Playback Theatre. The troupe delivers improvisational shows based on personal experiences shared by audience members.

“Playback is about community,” says Nels Arnold, a member of both Asheville Playback and the Human Rights Team. “One person tells a story from his or her life, and an audience member has experienced similar situations and so is not alone. We find, in some way, we’re similar, and so know each other even if we never really meet.”

The upcoming event, titled, “Listening, Speaking Out and Taking Action,” will be replicated by Playback companies around the world, according to co-founder and Managing Director Raphael Peter. “The whole thing came out of Asheville,” he explains.

Peter first pitched the concept of an international Playback event to the movement’s founder, Jonathan Fox, two years ago as part of the Kindness Campaign. The result was World Kindness Day performances on six continents. The idea for the Human Rights Day presentations also came from the Asheville group, from Producing Director Mountaine Mort Jonas of Earthstage Productions. Earthstage is a nonprofit company that produces Asheville Playback events.

“For me, it’s already been very provocative,” says Artistic Director Deborah Scott. “What does ‘human rights’ mean in my daily life? What does it mean in my personal experience?

“I think it’s about honoring the person who is willing to tell something from his or her life,” Scott adds. “We honor them by playing it for them and we, in the audience, honor them for sharing that experience with us.”

Playback is not “theater,” in the traditional sense. “Playback doesn’t require actors, per se,” Arnold explains. “Therapists, social workers, [and] everyday people are playback performers. Later this winter, I hope to form a senior group that can go into assisted-living places and other venues where folks are seldom heard.”

The performance will take place at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (1 Edwin Place) at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 10. Ticket prices run on a sliding scale from $5 to $15. All proceeds will benefit the International Center for Playback Theatre. For more information, e-mail

— Cecil Bothwell

Faces for radio

Asheville’s Joshua P. Warren is an author, a paranormal investigator of growing renown and a local radio host. Now, he can call himself a filmmaker, as well.

On Thursday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m. and again at 10 p.m., Warren and co-director/producer C. Eric Scott will show their film, Talking Tall, at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. on Merrimon Avenue. Tickets are $2.

The film shines a light on, and puts a face to, several local talk-radio personalities.

“The concept was simple,” Warren says. “Let’s take the big issues addressed by talk radio like God, sex, politics, drugs and so on, and discuss them on camera. These folks are experts at analyzing such issues, and the diversity of opinion is truly enlightening.”

The cast includes a few well-known local names: Matt Mittan, who hosts WWNC 570 ‘s weekday afternoon public-affairs show, Virato, who hosts a syndicated Saturday show on WPEK 880, and Warren himself, who hosts a weekend show on WWNC entitled “Speaking of Strange.”

And while talk radio typically conjures visions of political blowhards, the cast of Talking Tall carries an abundance of Warren’s own posse, the Asheville-based ghost-busting outfit LEMUR (League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained phenomena Research).

It’s a crowd that’s primed to tackle unconventional topics. Warren, along with fellow cast members Forrest Connor, Brian Irish from LEMUR, along with J. Scott, Trent Lackey, and “Hillbilly Psychic” Angela Moore, discuss everything from ghosts and spirits to aliens, shadow people, indigo children and the afterlife.

Warren and Scott want their movie to be taken seriously, but also say it contains an entertaining and satirical edge. “This film combines moments of tension with moments of pure fun,” Warren notes. “I’ve actually cried with laughter watching some of the rough cuts.”

Warren and Scott, who holds a degree in filmmaking from the N.C. School for the Arts in Winston-Salem, are unsure what the film’s future may hold, but say they’re hoping for the widest exposure possible. “Maybe it’ll at least help us get our shows syndicated,” Warren says.

— Hal L. Millard

Cliffs resort developers shift Swannanoa plan

Last week, the Buncombe County Assistant Manager John Creighton received a letter from Jim Anthony, founder and president of the The Cliffs Communities development company, which promised that all lots at The Cliffs at High Carolina will comply with the requirements of the county’s new steep-slope and storm-water runoff ordinances. The Swannanoa development had qualified for approval under the old, less-stringent regulations because plans were submitted before the July 1 cutoff. “By voluntarily complying with the subsequently enacted ordinances, we hope we are demonstrating our commitment to environmentally responsible development in Buncombe County,” Anthony wrote.

“We commend the Cliffs for taking this step,” says Carol Groben of the Swannanoa Pride Community Coalition, which has pressed for such compliance. “It’s not only great news for the Swannanoa community and for the environment, but it also sets an important precedent for other developers.”

When the county Planning Board recently refused the coalition’s request to impose the new regs, representatives of the group sought meetings with the developer and pressed their case, according to member Rebecca Williams. “While I feel that the result of the Cliff’s compliance with the steep-slope and storm-water erosion ordinances should have been achieved through the Planning Board process, I am pleased that the Cliffs responded to the groundswell of public concern by voluntarily complying with the new regulations,” she says. “I hope that the Planning Board will now look more closely at the remaining developers that submitted plans on the eve of the steep-slope deadline.”

While Anthony’s letter said that “lots will be adjusted in number, size, or configuration so as to conform to the features contained in the ordinances enacted after our plan submission, including the ‘Steep Slope’ Ordinance effective July 1, 2006, and the … Buncombe County Stormwater Ordinance, which was enacted in late September of 2006,” it added that the company considers already permitted roads exempted.

However, those roads apparently meet the requirements of the new ordinances, so the practical impact of the exemption is avoiding resubmission of plans for approval.

— Cecil Bothwell

Whaddya know?

If knowledge is power, then reference librarians must be powerful indeed, the sort of people who can bend steel with their bare hands. (Oh, there we go again: confusing power with strength.)

It’s true that by reputation reference librarians are bookish and slight, more reading glasses with beaded chains than jock straps and sweats. Nevertheless, there’s some heavy lifting going on within the Asheville-Buncombe Library System: By their own accounting, last year the library staff answered 134,588 reference questions. If one does the math (and one must when confronted with such a staggering number), that figure breaks down to some 16,823 questions responded to by each member of the library system’s eight-person reference team over the course of the year, or roughly 40 questions answered per person, per day. Written on pieces of notebook paper and laid end-to-end, last year’s total would reach from Pack Square, in Asheville, to just past Clyde, which is saying something. It appears that even the combined forces of Google and Wikipedia are having trouble making a dodo of the reference librarian.

“We get a lot of questions relating to homework,” says Laura Gaskin, head of the system’s reference department. “We also get questions about how to fix your plumbing, and a lot more mundane ones, like people wanting to know a certain phone number. [During the election] we got a lot of political questions. People wanted to know the minute-by-minute reconfiguration of the U.S. House.” Most are call-ins, but increasingly queries arrive via e-mail.

Reference librarians not only take their work seriously, they probably take it home with them too. Who can sleep well when his or her head is filled with such trivia: the names of the capitals of the various -stans, the height of the St. Louis arch, the average frost dates for the Swannanoa Valley, the current body count in Iraq or the location of the nearest Employment Security Commission office. Then there are the stranger questions, from patrons who routinely confuse fictional characters with real-life people and need to know details about them, or others who call in with spiritual queries. Namely, “questions about people having sex with angels,” says Gaskin, citing one patron’s quest for knowledge. No amount of Lunesta or Sleepytime Tea can unburden a librarian’s mind of such things.

If you have a nagging question of your own, a reference librarian is standing by. Call 250-4711 for help.

— Kent Priestley


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