Heather Raffo: Inside Politically Motivated Theatre

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“Having something to say and being able to say it is what keeps you going.” This is how political activism actor/playwright Heather Raffo responded to an audience member of her discussion on her play: Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire. Performed by Heather Raffo herself, this one woman show has run off Broadway nine months with the possibility of a revival in the near future.

Very much interested in both the creative and political process behind her series of nonfiction speech patterns, the group of Hofstra students with various intended majors (including creative writing, political science, drama, and journalism) eagerly participated.

The play itself is a collection of monologues written in the voices of Iraqi women of all generations. There are nine women in total, hence the title of the play (in addition to a quote in another well-known book entitled Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks).

 The chronicling of Ms. Raffo’s endeavors ever since she graduated from a New York masters acting program was quite inspiring. She began her career shortly thereafter in 1998 mainly because there was no such thing as Arab-American theatre at the time; no Arab-American female characters where anywhere to be found in American theatre.

Growing up half Iraqi on her father’s side and not knowing how to speak the language, Raffo admits she struggled finding her place in society with respect to her ethnicity. However during the 1980’s while in college with CNN incessantly streaming footage of the war in Iraq, she knew what she needed to do.

  She participates the world of theatre imply because she enjoys tackling dangerous and controversial conversations in the completely safe environment that the art of theatre creates. For example, after just recently returning from a similar discussion in Malta, Raffo exclaimed her dissolution for the blatantly racist nation.

They openly admitted the people’s denial of their Arab roots, as well as the terrible way they treated Africans- and for a European country! However, it was easy to get to the heart of these issues thanks in part to the openness of her direct presentations.

While she claims to engage in politically motivated theatre because of its relevance, it was by no stretches of the imagination an easy feat. 1999 and 2000, she started off gathering real life sources and drafting clear ideas.

However, while she was finished in 200l and persistently looking for a place to get it up and running, most producers shied away, much too afraid after the terrorist attacks.  Eventually she found the break she was seeking, and it was a hit. Fast-forward the present where the University of Baghdad hired a big name Iraqi actress to fill the role and New York theatres are scrambling to get the show running again.

Somewhat irked and disappointed  in the cowardice of the American theatre, Raffo exclaimed “So now they want to bring in a bunch of Iraqis to come and see the show after we’ve decimated their  f****ing country?! New York wants to do this years later after they had the opportunity to do something about it?”

On the whole, aside from the phenomenal acting (when she switched from her character and spoke as herself, you were suddenly reminded you had been watching a performance), one could take away from the presentation the importance of making one’s voice heard.

Heather Raffo and I meet for the first time at Hofstra University.

Interview with the Mayor of Mineola, NY: Scott Strauss

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On Sunday, October 18, I had the pleasure of covering a story at the Mineola Fire Station. The Junior Fire Department was hosting a pancake breakfast and all proceeds were donated to the victims of Hurricane Sandy in the surrounding communities. A volunteer firefighter himself, Scott Strauss came to the event in support of a program he was once part of. He graciously sat down with me for an interview despite his duties at the event.

JMR:Thank you for sitting down for this interview, Mayor Strauss. Could explain your ties to the department and this event?

SS:I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for 31 years and I’ve lived in Mineola for 48 years, since I was only a year old. I was a junior firefighter when I was 14 and joined when I was 18. I can’t say no to this department and this fantastic program.

JMR:What are your responsibilities here and now?

SS:Well, today I’m here to cook pancakes, but I support this group and help out whenever I can. My son Brian is now the advisor to the junior program, and my other son Tyler came from college to help out today.

JMR: Would you mind sharing how this storm has affected you personally?

SS: We were lucky; we were only without power for five days. These firefighters are all volunteers that left their families to come here and respond to emergency calls.

JMR: So how have you handled the situation as Mayor?

SS: My real job is not mayor. I am also Corporate Director of Security and Emergency Management in the North Shore Long Island Health System. I’m also a volunteer firefighter. The community as a whole is more important than my position.

JMR: As far as the junior fire department goes, how has it changed since you were with them in your teens?

SS: It is a lot more active. They are a part of the family. They are a huge resource to have in the department. They train, respond to calls, and help out every time.

JMR: Thank you very much for your time. To wrap up, what would you like to say to the members of the Mineola Community?

SS: Mother Nature unleashed her fury on the south shore of Long Island, but it didn’t break the human spirit. It made us stronger. The Mineola Community is a great group of people, and they support the wonderful fire department in all that they do. It is a community full of pride and spirit.

 -jeanine

Mineola Junior Firefighters Serve Up Pancakes for Hurricane Sandy Relief

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Published on Mineola Patch 

It is not unusual for the Mineola Junior Fire Department to sponsor a pancake breakfast as a fundraiser. But the pancake breakfast held on October 18 at the firehouse on Washington Avenue was not your typical fundraiser for the juniors, but a benefit for the victims in the Rockaways devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Three weeks after the storm struck the east coast, many parts of Long Island remain without basic necessities; the Mineola Junior Fire Department has volunteered their time and services to change that.

As the “backbone” of the Mineola community, according to mayor (and a former junior firefighter himself) Scott Strauss, the junior members stand alongside their seniors in responding to calls and train rigorously throughout the week to become full-fledged firefighters.

With support from the Ladies Auxiliary and donations from Williston Park-based restaurant La Parma, junior fire department Advisors Gary Mazur and Brian Strauss oversaw the execution of the five-hour event, raising over $5,000.

The team of young aspiring firefighters united to serve one simple goal: “to give back to the community,” according to Junior Fire Department Captain Matt Barroca.

Fellow member Chase Pagnani, who has been serving with the junior department for a year-and-a-half did not make light of the situation of the surrounding communities.

“Thirty-six out of state workers were living here for a while,” Pagnani said, pointing around the firehouse.

The fundraiser itself was held restaurant style, with members split among the firehouse to serve different sections of tables while others set up the dining utensils or cooked the pancakes themselves.

Mineola Fire Department Chief Joe Pratt stood with the junior fire department throughout the day expressing his happiness.

“Like everything in this firehouse, this was a dream that grew into a reality,” he said.

Mayor Strauss also stepped in to make pancakes while emphasizing the hard work of the young volunteers.

“They were with the volunteer firemen in this department who left their families to come here and respond to emergency calls,” Strauss said. “They always want to give back to the community in some way or another. It is a tremendous program.”

The fundraising for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts did not end when the breakfast concluded shortly after 1 p.m., as the junior fire department have made plans to travel into the Rockaways Thanksgiving Day to serve food for 12 hours to those still affected.

Cornerstone Hosts Fundraiser for Victims of Hurricane Sandy

 

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Published on the Mineola Patch Website

The Cornerstone Pub is used to large crowds on weekend nights, but on November 9 the patronage packed into the Mineola pub for more than just the typical relief from the previous workweek – especially one that followed Hurricane Sandy.

With the assistance of owner Phil Mazzella, residents Christine Marchiselli and Sue Fleming helped to organize a fundraiser benefiting victims of Hurricane Sandy, which saw hundreds of people either participating or donating time and/or resources to the cause.

“We are doing this today to focus on the basic needs of people in South Shore communities struck by the storm, but this is by no means a one-time only event; this is just the beginning,” Marchiselli said.

Various organizations and community groups, including representatives from the Lady Islanders Ice Hockey Organization, Coach Olivia Nuzzo, Captain Bella Marchiselli and the Mineola High School cheerleaders – who made bracelets sold for 5 dollars each – helped contribute to the hurricane relief funds.

The benefit was particularly poignant for Nuzzo, as one of her own team members was affected by the storm.

“She has a 10 –foot sand dune in her yard and both of her parents’ cars has been totaled,” Nuzzo said of her teammate, whose name she did not want to mention. “LIPA has not even been there yet!”

While almost all in attendance had stories to share of the storm and its aftermath, most were grateful their situation was not much worse.

“We are blessed and lucky,” said Ellen Sauchelli, who had to self-evacuate after loosing power for several days. “We were inconvenienced, but I know people who have lost everything.”

Cindy Morico, a Cornerstone regular, explained her ties to the event being held at her favorite hangout spot.

“This shows what this bar is about – we are a family,” she said.

Bartenders Mike Rising, Tommy Robertson and John “Scherz” Scherzinger each donated their time to the benefit, along with Mineola Fire Department Captain Sandy Sonera and firefighter Michael Eich lending their support as well.

Together with the donated time of organizations such as “Laughter Saves Lives,” New York Entertainment and local restaurants such as Piccolo’s, Uncle Bacala’s, and Sunset Printing, the fundraiser earned $1,000 within its first two hours.

The relief efforts will be accepting donations until Friday, November 16 between noon and midnight.

2012 Presidential Election: Political Analyst Perspective

 

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Though clearly a supporter of President Obama, award winning political journalist Jonathan Alter provided objective insight on the positions of this year’s Presidential candidates. Sunday, November 4 marked the 48 hour countdown to the 2012 elections, and Alter appeared at Temple Emanuel in Great Neck, NY to educate citizens on the high stakes of Tuesday’s political activity.

The speech he gave, entitled “Between the Lines: Politics, Media, and Society” aroused the undecided voters of the community and by the end of the night it was clear the audience had made a decision to vote for a particular candidate.

During the lecture itself, Alter began by emphasizing one point. “I don’t know how the election will turn out,” he responded when asked about polls and predictions. “I think this race is just too close to call—there are too many uncertain variables to say that Obama will be re-elected.”

After simplifying matters with claims President Obama will have a good chance of winning if he could secure Ohio, but will have a tough time otherwise, the discussion became heated when delving into other issues.

Alter’s explanation for Governor Romney’s lack of campaigning in Pennsylvania because of the “unlikelihood” of his winning over the 2/3 population he needs to have a hold on the state led to other critiques of the Romney-Ryan platform. “The stakes in the election are very big. I believe the American Social Contract is on the line this election,” Alter claimed. “Paul Ryan’s plan strips away he contract upon which America is now built. If Romney is elected, Supreme court cases such as Roe v. Wade will be repealed.”

This was met with response from audience member Ellen Lightfort. “I disagree with everything you just said,” she said in her response to Alter. “Issues such as abortion are not such big things right now. America is on the edge; Obama has not done anything to support international problems. What are we going to do without Israel?”

Alter continued to state his support of the president is with the understanding that his positions are far from perfect, but they are “mixed reviews.” Expectations for the election became a pressing topic of discussion—Linda Drum questioned Romney’s stance with the Republican Party.

The consensus was that should he win, “Romney will live looking over his shoulder because he knows he will be a man without a party should he deviate from any pre-imposed policies.” Alter tied this in with the importance of voting.

Before a poll was taken, Professor Michael D’innocenzo of Hofstra University raised a question. “Regarding voting, the three groups that made a difference for Obama are African-Americans, Hispanics, and younger citizens. What do they mean for Obama in this election?”

The overall view Alter presented was that the turnout of the Latino population were not as high as the black population, even though 70 percent of Latinos are in favor of President Obama. Additionally, the youth voter turnout leaves something to be desired as well. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you vote for as long as you take advantage of the rights you have to vote for someone who favors your interests.”

Q and A:

JMR: Hi Mr. Alter. It is a pleasure to meet you and I want to thank you for taking time before giving your speech to meet with me. Could you explain what your goals are in addressing the audience and what you plan to accomplish through your speech tonight?

JA: I want to do both a short-term and long-term presentation that addresses the impact the next 48 hours will have on America. Involved in that is a sense of the state-of-play the election holds and the way it stacks up in terms of the array of force in battleground states.

JMR: And how would you like to inform the audience of undecided registered voters?

JA: Well, I would like to put it in perspective by analyzing what is at stake in this particular election, and possibly give the listeners a bit of what to expect after the election if either candidate were to win.

JMR: Thank you very much! I understand that you are preparing to deliver that speech as we speak, so I won’t detain you for much longer. But I think people would be interested in your start in this field.  On a more general scale, what had you hoped to accomplish in the field of journalism when you first began? What were your plans?

JA: Wow. That is a deep question. I believe in a mixture of idealism and skepticism and I wanted to use it to nudge the world. I knew journalism couldn’t change the world, but I wanted to nudge it and express myself. Also, it was less boring than other occupations [laughs] and I wasn’t qualified for anything else.