Thursday, January 28, 2016

VSA Texas Unsung Hero of the Week: Rod Sigler


Rod Sigler is a local veteran musician whose talent gained him a spot in the stage show at the National VA Creative Arts Festival in 2015. Rod sent us a few words about his trip to North Carolina:

“What a great event! The nation's greatest Veteran talent was calibrated together for one event that was the Creative Arts Festival. People from all walks of life and different talents came together to show their gold medal winning art, dance, drama, and voices.

Rod Sigler at the National Veterans
Creative Arts Festival in North Carolina
"I, Rod Sigler, represented Austin, TX and enjoyed the fellowship so much that it sent me back home on a mission to make an impact in the community and take some other veterans with me. Most of the songs we sang were classics by John Denver. Initially I thought that it was not my style of music and would not be something I would enjoy doing. What I found is that I could step out of my comfort zone, grow, and demonstrate the flexibility to do more kinds of music and reach a point where, those of us who won solo parts, we could own it and add our personality to it. Moving through the week it started to wear on us but many of us started to consider the words of the songs. We began to ask questions like, "Who is this person I am singing next to?" Before you knew it, what we had worked on for hours a day for an entire week had culminated into a fine event that we nailed. The North Carolina community was so loving, and you could tell they loved and appreciated veterans. Before you knew it, the music stopped and there was no more preparation. There was almost a midst of sadness that swept across the room and on the bus ride home. It was over. Time to get back to our life.

Rod with his gold medal for first place in the
Original Vocal category for his song, "We Are Veterans"
"The key to any experience like this is will it be a moment or a movement to bring back things learned in order to see what can be done in our communities. I told the group in a meeting that the only way that we could not let anything garnered that week to die is to keep breathing life into it by returning home, seeing who you can build up, inspire, and impact in a manner that causes others to reach higher, make a difference to the local community of vets back home and maybe themselves make the trip next year.”

 Rod practicing for the stage show
Rod has definitely inspired us here at VSA Texas to work on expanding our Distinguished Artist Veterans program to include more veteran musicians and writers. Look out for more details on that program and learn more about our veteran services at http://www.vsatx.org/veteranServices.html.

If you are a veteran served by the VA, then you too can enter the National VA Creative Arts Competition. The 2016 event will be held in Jackson, MS and includes categories in Visual Art, Dance, Drama, Music, and Creative Writing. To qualify, you must enter through your local VA. If you are in Austin and receive services at the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic, then entries are due by March 9th. Make an appointment to record your Music, Dance, or Drama entry on 9th. Bring your Art or Writing entries to the Austin VA Outpatient Clinic on March 8th & 9th. Contact Jeffrey Norrod at the VA at 254-624-2911 for details.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

OMOD Presents at IKKiCON!!!

As I entered the world of IKKiCON, I have to admit I had no idea who all these characters were, as I am not an anime fan myself. But you don’t have to be to enjoy and admire all the work that goes into all these fan’s costumes. I was glad we got there early. It allowed me to meet monsters and eclectic anime and Disney characters. The hotel was filled with picture taking and admiration of all the homemade costumes.

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I met one young fellow who was a blue banana. I asked him, “Are you the Blue Man Group banana?” Being that I saw the Blue Man Group back when they first became popular over 15 years ago in Chicago, I thought maybe he got the idea from seeing the Blue Man Group himself or that he saw people from the Blue Man Group wearing this costume in their show. But no, he said he had both things in his closet and thought they might go well together, and that’s how it happened. That’s how costumes form – by digging into your closet! You never know what you might find. After taking some pictures and getting much needed coffee fuel, we got our badges and headed downstairs.

From left to right: Jessica as Ichigo Kurosaki, me as Dr. Time,
Banana Man, and Jordana as Maleficent
We thought we had better get to our room early to scope it out, see how big it was and how the chairs were set up. We found out that the people in the room before us were celebrities Chris Ayres, Greg Ayres, and Carli Mosier, all voiceover actors that were giving autographs. There was a long line to get in, and the room was packed. They had to constantly turn people away. The celebrities’ assistants informed us that they might be a bit late getting out.

This was quite ironic, as my character was Dr. Time and extending from my very face were the minute and hour hands of a clock. So I reminded them, in character of course, that our workshop was scheduled to begin at 3:00pm, and therefore, they needed to wrap up a little before then so that we could start on time. It was only polite to do so for the next presenter, but unfortunately this did not happen. By the time we got in, it was 3:15pm, and we were supposed to have the room from 3:00-4:00pm. I guess that’s what you have to expect with celebrities.

Our workshop was called, “Talk to the Eyes ‘Cause the Ears Aren’t Listening,” and it was a workshop on embodying your character through body language, gestures, and facial expressions. The rules: no talking for the entire hour, and of course, no phones or texting either. Somehow this drew a big crowd for us, and we capped the room at 45 people! Who knew! Here are two of the activities we did with our workshop group:

Activity #1: Random Acts in Silence
With an extremely diverse playlist of songs playing in the background, we had our workshop attendees walk around the room while we gave them different tasks to do in character, like pretend you’re at a junior high school dance, pick a flower and do something with it, strike a fighting pose, step on gum, and so on. For our playlist, we used a variety of songs, like the Star Wars theme song, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and many others. Do you all remember the Brady Bunch? Do you remember the episode where they sang “Sunshine Day?” Well, that was on the playlist, too. For those of you who want a fun uplifter, you can find the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4FprR_LNSU



Activity #2: Endorse a Product
We had a box of random fun items to pick from, everything from duck tape to giant sunglasses to a stuffed bunny. The attendees were super creative and did a great job pretending they were on QVC or Vanna White, selling their product. Using only your body language really forces you to think outside the box.

Even though we started late, it was a success! And even though this workshop was something we had never done before, it was important to do. It’s important to try new things, new workshops, and new classes. It’s going to be a great 2016!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Houston, We Have a Showcase

Hey folks, Eric here with another road trip adventure!

Before the Christmas break, my attendant Nolan and I hit the road again, this time to Houston for the conclusion of a six-week OMOD class at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center (MMSC). Throughout the preceding several weeks, seven self-advocates in Houston had been hard at work, each writing and preparing a personal story to present at the final class showcase on December 19th. This showcase would also be the first time I would meet any of them in person since up to that point I had only seen or spoken to them via Skype.

When Nolan and I arrived in Houston, we ate a lunch of monstrous sandwiches at Cafe Express, and then began setting up the mic equipment for the showcase at the MMSC. Participants slowly filtered in with scripts and heightened nerves. Once everyone arrived, Alex, the Houston class facilitator, led the participants in some silly and relaxing warm-up activities. Afterward, we did a quick technical rehearsal of the showcase, filled out evaluations, and then the group spread out to practice their speeches or meditate, as needed. By 2:45pm, we had all taken our places, and family members and friends formed our small yet formidable audience. As emcee, I kicked off the showcase a few minutes before 3pm.

Adam spoke first about his unique abilities. Alisha spoke second about her recent trip to Camp Summit in Dallas. Russell spoke about the numerous jobs he's had, passing out coupons in a chicken suit and delivering room service at the Sheraton among the more notable ones. John told a story about when he played the Grinch in "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" at Theater Under the Stars. Tony's story was "Everything You Need to Know About Me," a charming glimpse into his life with an emphasis on his family, friends, girlfriend, and love of football. Joseph spoke about his journey to the church and his dream of becoming a minister. Alec concluded the showcase with a story about what's important in his life.

The Houston Seven posing with their writing facilitator
Each story ended in great applause, and we received positive feedback from everybody after the showcase. As usual, there were a few unexpected issues, like a cell phone ringing in the middle of one participant's speech, another participant grabbing the wrong copy of his script, and a third participant getting emotional when reading his speech. I believe though that every mishap only strengthened the participant speaking because public speeches rarely go exactly the way we expect, and it's important to realize that and get used to it sooner rather than later.

Once we said our goodbyes to the participants, staff, and audience members, we left the MMSC and went to visit Nolan's grandmother Marian at her retirement home, which felt much more like an upbeat, stationary cruise ship than a retirement home – in every direction were snazzily-dressed seniors lounging, playing cards, and guzzling glasses of wine. Marian treated us to a dinner of grilled salmon and wild rice in the cafeteria, and I quietly ate while Nolan and Marian caught up.

After dinner, we drove back into the heart of downtown Houston for an art installation/music festival called "Day for Night." Nolan's half-brother had gotten extra tickets that he invited us to use, so we decided to check it out. As we entered the festival, Janelle Monae was on stage singing a soulful cover of James Brown's "I Feel Good." (Please note: videos from "Day for Night" below may take a few minutes to load.)

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Artsy lights and images were projected on the outsides of the art installation buildings around the festival grounds. The first installation we saw was like the warehouse set from some apocalyptic movie  bright lights suddenly flashed on and off at the far end of a grid of steel beams while a soundtrack of metallic clicks and thunderous booms played in the background.

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In the next installation, streams of light projected on a translucent screen shot up and down like massive ocean waves, seeming to morph briefly into vaguely human figures before falling back into abstract streams.

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By far the most adventurous moment of the festival was my trip to the bathroom, which in this case was a couple dozen porta potties set on a three-inch raised wooden platform and surrounded by five feet of rough, muddy terrain. I paused there briefly, contemplating the difficult path to the porta potties and thinking that there must be an accessible path somewhere, until several inebriated dudes in black jackets emerged out of nowhere, started lifting up my chair, and attempted to carry it across the mud. I didn't really know what to do, so I just held on and hoped for the best. Luckily, within minutes, I landed victoriously on the platform unscathed, but as I suspected, there was, in fact, an accessible path just around the corner.

We then wandered into a third and final building, which had a number of smaller light projections by various artists and another stage.


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We ordered a round of hot toddies and slowly explored the building. Then Battles walked out on stage, and we stayed to watch their set of layered electronic loops, angular guitar rhythms, and extended jams.

After such a long day, we were tired and made our way to the exit. The big outside stage was counting down the minutes until New Order was scheduled to play, and I heard some random woman yell, "Bye forever!" Well, I hope that's not the case with Houston.