In-Cite by John DiDonna: The woes of Spider Man

Editor’s Note: John DiDonna is a professor at Rollins College, Valencia Community College and Seminole State College, a prominent actor, director and playwright, and the co-artistic director of the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and a board of directors member of the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Central Florida. John now joins the team at Freeline Media Orlando for a new column, In-Cite, that encourages readers to join in the discussion.  To debate.  To let their voices be heard.
INCITE – From the latin incitare – “to put in motion.”
INSIGHT – The power or act of seeing into a situation.
IN-CITE is a column that is merely a prompt for CONVERSATION and dialogue on up to date social/political/theatrical news.
The author holds a firm belief that it is pleasant but oftentimes insulating to talk to only those who agree – the most growth can be had by discussing with those we do NOT agree with!
With that being said, only civil discourse is encouraged, finger pointing or diversion discouraged, and premade agendas heavily disdained! 
Let the debate begin on  …  Spider Man and the future of Broadway.
The “talk of the town” – and not just of New York – is the Broadway spectacle “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” currently in previews and now slated to open at the beginning of February (after countless delays and changing dates).

Spider Man goes from comic books to hit movies and now Broadway ... but the latest transformation has been an awfully bumpy one for the producers.

Unfortunately, the talk isn’t all good.  Multiple injuries (two quite serious) and shutdowns, an unfinished script and story, and countless technical problems have haunted this production from the start of previews.

But as a theatrical artist myself, the bigger puzzle come from those who are not questioning just the safety issues, but the human element itself.  Too many perceptions are that the show itself has sacrificed story, connection and acting/singing in lieu of spectacle — for spectacle’s sake.

It’s been pointed out oftentimes that Julie Taymor, the visionary and remarkable director of Tempest, The Lion King and countless others on both stage and screen, excels at spectacle.  (And it must be pointed out that as a director, I certainly revere her).  And this is certainly true.  However, to this date her spectacles have existed to further the story, to illuminate rather than replace the human condition.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed Piece published on Jan. 1, 2010, Jennifer George, the producer George W. George’s (Via Galactica) daughter, implored Julie Taymor and the production team in a manner I have put forth for the last month:  “But I’d like to urge them, take a moment — now if you can.  Step back and look at what you have.  Put the play’s human moments front and center.  There’s still time.”

A number of Broadway stars including Anthony Rapp and Alice Ripley have called for lawsuits and more.  Ripley’s oft repeated Twitter feed does ask an important question:  “Does someone have to die? Where is the line for the decision makers, I am curious.” (Hollywood Reporter 12/22/10)

In the creator’s defense, Taymor’s spirit of creativity and exploration must be applauded.  In an interview in Vogue magazine published in December of ‘10, that spirit of a pioneer was alive and well:  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?  Seriously, if you don’t want to do something ambitious that’s never been seen before, why do you bother?”

But there also seems to be warring elements of that quote.  The inspiring last part is partly undone by the first part.  “I know it’s too much, but is that bad?” seems to be the question on the minds of many.  My simple answer is it is too much if that is all there is.

If this show fails, what is its legacy?  In a recent debate with a friend of mine (who, while remaining nameless, has starred in numerous shows on Broadway), I mentioned that even if the show failed, it would hopefully create ideas that can be used to greater effect and potential in future shows.  This person mentioned to me (paraphrased, of course) a far more dangerous outcome – they posed the question, You know what is worse than it failing? What if the show succeeds?  They questioned what would happen if that were the case — if it succeeds, what will become of budgets in the future?  They would skyrocket.  You would have to top $65 million, $100 million, $120 million.  Spectacle will become the norm with one Broadway producer trying to outdo another Broadway producer with more money being thrown down.

We have watched that happen in films over the last two decades;  God forbid it happens to stage, where money and spectacle might replace substance and humanity and immediacy.

So where is that line that Alice Ripley refers to?




What are your thoughts? Time for your in-cite.

Contact John DiDonna at

A struggling housing markets leaves Realtors looking for ways to diversify

DAVENPORT – Diversification is key for a lot of things, particularly investors, who view it as a means of reducing risk by investing in a variety of assets.
But diversification can also apply to the job skills that people have. If their talents in one field start to become obsolete, they can retrain and diversify, and offer more to employers.
It may not seem like the case, but this has become particularly true for Realtors.
Just ask Pete Howlett.
“We’re looking to have a strong year,” said Howlett, who operates a real estate company in Davenport, Orlando Vacation Realty.

Realtor Pete Howlett operates Orlando Vacation Realty in Four Corners.

“We’ve had some good activities recently as far as sales,” Howlett said. “I have more deals now than I’ve had in a while. I have eight deals going on now. I haven’t had eight deals at one time in a long time.”
Howlett markets properties in Four Corners, the area where the counties of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk meet at U.S. 27 and U.S. 192. This area has been a booming spot for newly built vacation and luxury homes, and when the real estate market was booming between 2004 and 2006, business was great.  People moved to Four Corners just to open up real estate offices to take advantage of the heavy demand for properties there.
But when the housing boom turned bust by 2008, the crash was felt throughout a host on industries.
Mortgage lending.
Construction work.
Home building suppliers.
Home furnishings.
The housing boom had fueled growth throughout a wide variety of fields, when suddenly the huge drop in home buying left behind a massive inventory of unsold, vacant homes, and a rising home foreclosure rate.  Also gone was a long list of jobs related to the home building and growth industries.
The same was true for Realtors like Howlett, who struggled to stay afloat when the real estate market was tanking. What kept him in business, Howlett said, was that he diversified what he could offer his clients.
He did that be expanding into property management. For the past few years, Howlett’s company has managed homes that people want to sell, but simply couldn’t because the market was so weak and there were so few buyers.  In some instances, these sellers decided to pull the house off the market and rent it instead. Managing other people’s homes, he said, helped pay the bills when there was a surplus of homes for sale but a big shortage of qualified buyers.
“I want to really push property management this year,” Howlett said. “We have about 70 properties that we manage. I want to get to 100. That’s our bread and butter right now.”
Howlett plans to continue expanding this year as well, by going into the field of Community Association Management – or consulting for home owners associations. This is a potentially strong field, since few builders during the residential construction boom built single family homes, and instead constructed subdivisions containing hundreds of new houses. These developments, often built in unincorporated areas, are run by home owners association that set the rules and regulations that all residents live by.
“Basically, you’re working for the homeowners association,” Howlett said. “There’s a lot of competition in that business, but it is a monthly paycheck. I think I can use some of my property management contacts to get into HMAs.”
Howlett said the local housing market has improved recently, as more buyers show interest in purchasing homes in Four Corners and Northeast Polk County. But he also knows that the market remains fragile, since inventory is so high, and since a lot of sellers have to compete with “short sales” transactions.
Short sales are when the seller owes more on their mortgage than a buyer is willing to pay for the home, so the property is sold at a reduce price.  The hope is that the banks will agree to write off the seller’s remaining debt, rather than let the home fall into foreclosure.
Short sales may be good for a seller eager to unload a mortgage they can no longer afford to pay, and even better for buyers looking for good deals on the price.  But for the overall housing market, these transactions painfully drag down home prices.
“Short sales are still going to be on the landscape for a long time,” Howlett said. “Prices have gone down and people are selling at a loss.”

The real estate market in Northeast Polk County remains weak but shows signs of improving.

Howlett said he’s stayed in business by diversifying what he offers clients, both in terms of property management and now home owners association management.  He believes the local housing market, while certainly getting better compared to 2008 and 2009, nevertheless has a long way to go.
“I’m looking to do as much diversification of the real estate market as I can,” he said.  “I want to work smart and open up other avenues.”
Realtor Brooke Thompson has gone through a similar experience.  She became a real estate broker in 2005, and remembers how quickly sales went through back then.
“It was easy,” she said.  “People would just put in an offer and get an answer right away.”
Times have changed since the housing market collapsed.
“Now you have to wait months for a deal to go through,” she said.  “In one case, it was three months before we heard back on the offer.”
Thompson said she had to work harder to find qualified buyers, and she also put a focus on helping people who didn’t qualify for a mortgage and instead needed to find an apartment or home to rent.
“I did a lot of rentals,” she said.
Thompson, who runs Premiere Realty in East Orlando, said she also does a lot of short sales transactions.  The good news, she added, is that “There are still qualified buyers out there,” including retirees and young couples looking to buy their first home at a time when prices keep falling. 
To learn more about Orlando Vacation Realty, call Howlett at 863-424-3580.
To learn more about Premiere Realty, call Thompson at 407-716-7810.

 Contact us at

Maintaining your property should be one less thing you need to worry about and with Orlando property management this can be possible! Orlando Property Management

Orlando’s base of fine vegan restaurants includes Garden Cafe.

ORLANDO – Those who are not inclined to think of vegan eating as being healthy, nutritious and a precursor to a long lifespan may be quick to write it off with one common word: boring.

Or maybe two words: hopelessly boring.

I mean, it’s all just vegetables, right?  How much can you really do with a bunch of veggies?  If you’ve tried one carrot or piece of celery, you’ve gone the distance, right?

Isn’t the vegan lifestyle pretty much the same as committing yourself to eating a salad every day, and discovering by day three that you absolutely hate lettuce, no matter how much dressing your pour on it?  Doesn’t the whole vegan/vegetarian lifestyle eventually lead you to crave meat, even if it means breaking into the local Burger King after hours for a mad run on their Whoppers?

That’s probably a fairly common misconception about vegan food – that the best you can do with vegetables is either serve them raw or steam them in a hopeless attempt at variety.  If you’ve lived in Orlando long enough, you probably know this is a great city for living the vegan lifestyle, because there are so many different vegan restaurants to pick from.  Even better: the restaurants themselves are as diverse as McDonald’s is from Ruth’s Chris’ Steak House.

A good example: if you’ve ever stopped in at Ethos on Orange Avenue, or gone to The Loving Hut on Colonial Avenue near Bumby, you know these two vegan restaurants are radically different in terms of what they serve you – but in both cases, the emphasis is on non-meat dishes that are both healthy and delicious.   Neither one fits into my view of a dull place to eat because … well, those vegetarian dishes are too bland to waste your time with.

Are vegan meals all boring? Not at Garden Cafe.

Another fine example of this region’s ability to attract first rate vegan restaurants is the Garden Café at 810 W. Colonial Drive (considering that there’s also a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant at 4678 E. Colonial Drive, near Semoran Boulevard, I’m starting to think Colonial may be becoming the true vegetarian strip in this growing city.) 

Garden Cafe advertises its "natural, healthy" menu.

Every time I visit Garden Café, which is close to Orange Blossom Trail, I think less about it being a vegetarian restaurant than a Chinese one – because it looks just like most other local Chinese restaurants.  And the menu isn’t all that different, either.

The soups include Egg Drop, Wonton, Hot and Sour and Miso.  The appetizers include a Spring Roll, String Beans in Five Spices, or Dumplings.

The regular lunch and dinner entrees (Garden Café is closed on Mondays, and open Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 9:30 p.m.) sound familiar as well –Moo Shu Vegetables ($7.50), or Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables ($7.95), Seafood Tofu Pot ($11.95), or Sweet and Sour Taro Fish ($9.25).

Like many other Chinese restaurants, there are also chicken dishes (Mandarin Chicken for $12.95, Sesame Chicken for $8.95), pork dishes (Pork in Canton Style or Double Fried Pork, both $8.25), Lamb meals (Satay Lamb, $9.95, or Lamb Stew Tofu Pot for $10.95), and even Garden Café specialties like Fried Oysters ($9.50) or Beef Stew ($11.95).  Toss in some Ginseng Tea and a side order of Lo Mein ($6.95), and Garden Café sounds like the perfect Chinese restaurant to visit.

The difference, though, is in this restaurant’s philosophy, so proudly stated on the menu: “Forgo the meat without giving up the taste,” or their mission, “To create a vegetarian restaurant which can be enjoyed by both vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends.”

How do you do that?  The same way as The Loving Hut and other vegan restaurants serving “meat” dishes: ditch the meat.  Instead, offer meat substitutes – the Fried Oysters, for example, are made from Portobello mushrooms.

I used to look at meat substitute dishes with a sky high degree of skepticism – kind of like drinking Diet Coke when you really crave the genuine original, or buying one of those awful “low fat” cakes that strips out all the stuff that makes it taste good to begin with, even as it adds to your grief when you get on the scale the next morning, but which tastes like stale bread.

Garden Café cured me of that skepticism, though.  Their meat dishes taste like … well, meat, or seafood, or whatever else it’s supposed to resemble.  At least, I can’t notice a difference, and I will say that this restaurant which advertises “natural, healthy Chinese cuisine with meat substitutes” lives up to its billing.  The meals are delicious, the servings generous.  The service is fast, and if the restaurant’s overall décor isn’t flashy, it doesn’t need to be.  It’s another happy addition to Orlando’s growing number of fine vegan establishments, and there’s nothing about these meals that cry out “boring.”

To learn more about Garden Café, call 407-999-9799 or log on to

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