It’s all about building healthy relationships at Blissful Lotus.

Stacey Murphy shows off the products sold at Blissful Lotus that help couples discover intimacy and romance.

ORLANDO – Stacey Murphy gets a lot of people who sign up for her classes, particularly women, and “a lot of our clients, they’re professional, educated people.”

But Murphy still knows that when a few of them start the class, there’s always going to be that initial giggle factor.

“I say, ‘Ladies, this is a participatory class, you didn’t come here to look at me, you came to learn a technique,’ “ Murphy said. “And some of the women are giggling.”

On the other hand, for some of the couples who show up, her class turns out to be a major revelation.

“We have a lot of men who come in with their girlfriend, and by the end they say, ‘Girl, I’m seeing you in a whole new light,’ “ Murphy said.

That doesn’t surprise Murphy, who with her husband Sean Ramsay runs Blissful Lotus, a boutique on Orange Avenue that puts an emphasis on romance – specificially, by selling products from linqerie to oils, books to artwork, designed to help couples discover what works for them romantically, and what makes them tick.  

Husband and wife owners Sean Ramsay and Stacey Murphy opened Blissful Lotus a year ago in October.

At the same time, the boutique – which celebrated its one year anniversary in October – also hosts classes for couples and individuals that run every Tuesday through Thursday from 7-9 p.m. The educational component of the business is “huge,” Murphy said, since the classes are designed to teach couples and individuals about healthy ways of embracing their sexuality.

“What makes it positive is we try to teach men and women about authentic and empowered sensuality,” Murphy said. “It’s all about teaching people to embrace themselves and their sexuality. We have a school for loving arts.”

It’s also, Ramsay said, a way to get people to talk and think about a subject that people often are uncomfortable confronting: their sexual feelings. In a sense, he said, it becomes about strengthening relationships by teaching people how to be more open about feelings and desires.

“It’s okay to talk about this,” he said. “We’re letting the guys know it’s okay to be in touch with this stuff. It’s about relationships, and the experience of creating an intimate relationship.”

So how does a couple get into the business of teaching intimacy education through classes on “Erotic Kissing for Couples” and “Seven Days to Sex Appeal”? In some ways, it all happened rather accidentally, Murphy said.

Both of the store owners have backgrounds in other fields – Murphy has worked for years in corporate marketing, while Ramsay has a background in retail.

“My husband and I got into it initially because I wanted to take Tantra yoga lessons,” Murphy said. But she needed a way to pay for the lessons.

“I actually came across selling romance enhancement products to help pay for the Tanta lessons,” she said. “I started selling this at home.”

She quickly discovered that women calling for information about these products had a lot of questions – far more than Murphy initially expected.

“Many of the women were hungry for information, and I was able to sell the products by giving them information as well, on how to get in touch with their sensuality,” she said.  “That’s when I came across this concept.”

Romance boutiques, she said, are easy to find in big cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, but the concept was unheard of in Florida until last October, when a similar boutique opened in Miami. Murphy and Ramsay opened their shop at 1810 N. Orange Ave. at the same time, and it turned out to be the perfect location, she said. It’s a neighborhood that includes the Rock N Roll Heaven used record store, the White Wolf Cafe, Theatre Downtown, and the Savoy gay nightclub.

“This area is just very eclectic, very down to Earth, and they seem more receptive to this concept,” she said.

Did they have a difficult time opening a romance boutique in a conservative Southern state? Murphy said Orlando city officials never gave them a difficult time.

“We worked with the city for about a year to get a clear and defining line about what we can and can’t do,” she said. “We were very open about it, saying “This is what we want to do,’ so the city worked with us. Other parts of the area wouldn’t work – we wouldn’t be going to Winter Park. But we find that we’re bringing a resource here.”

It’s also important to keep in mind, Murphy noted, that her boutique is not the same thing as a store selling pornography.

“Romance boutiques are different,” she said. “None of them have offensive packaging. We don’t sell porn. Many of them have an art gallery as well, as we do.”

Rather than explicit DVDs and magazines, Blissful Lotus has an art gallery for adults.

What’s more challenging for them is dealing with the fact that sex remains one of those subjects that everyone wants to hear about, but at the same time it makes so many people very uncomfortable.

“We have a very schizophrenic view of sex,” Murphy said. “We use it to sell everything, but we don’t want to talk about it.”

Sex is so popular, though, that the subject matter saturates the media, she noted. Murphy said she got a laugh recently when she saw a television commercial about pest control.

“They were using sex to sell it – ‘The roaches are doing it,’ “ she laughed. “We try to give this subject a different face – something very educated.”

The key to making it work, she added, is to help people walking through the door feel comfortable talking about their feelings and desires.

“The biggest feedback I get is because we’re very relaxed, it makes people comfortable with us,” she said. “You’ll have a woman that says, ‘You know what I’m talking about, his … his …’ And we say, ‘We know what you’re talking about – his Love Wand.’ And they say ‘Yeah,’ and that helps make people feel comfortable.”

Murphy said Blissful Lotus shouldn’t be confused with a medical office that deals with physical issues requiring medication or surgery, and it isn’t a sex club, either.

“In our society, we’re either too clinical or too crass,” she said. “We try to bridge it in the middle.”

To learn more, call Blissful Lotus at 407-704-3357, email blissfullotus@gmail.com or log on to www.TheBlissfulLotus.blogspot.com.

“Snow” brings a macabre conceptual art show to Orlando, featuring puppets for grownups

The blue lighting in "Macabre Vignettes III: Snow" helps set the mood for winter in a forest.

ORLANDO – It could be just a coincidence – perhaps not – that when Halloween rolled around, temperatures remained summerlike across Central Florida.

“It was still warm out around Halloween,” said Tamara Marke-Lares.

Halloween is a significant date to her, because that’s when Tamara and her sister Leah Marke have been performing “Macabre Vignettes,” a conceptual arts show that melds together the unique talents both sisters have, including Tamara’s artwork and Leah’s dancing and choreography.

“This is the melding of puppetry and modern dance,” Tamara said, while Leah added, “For me, dance is what I do, but we’re really trying to use the dance to show her puppets.”

In the past few years, Macabre Vignettes has been performed in October, right around Halloween, to emphasis the eerie nature of the show. Set in a dark forest, there are black crows hovering above the dancers, a witch hiding in her lair with a brew steaming over a fire, and giant trolls that roam the woods. This year, though, the Marke sisters decided to alter the show a bit, by emphasizing something new and different: winter, and the cold blanketing the forest.

“In the past two years, it was done very close to Halloween,” Tamara said. “This year, it doesn’t feel creepy or eerie, but wintery – blue and snow.”

No surprise, then, that “Macabre Vignettes III” is titled “Snow,” and billed as a “Journey through a shimmering Winter World of unimaginable visisons.”

Tamara said it’s a nice coincidence that a strong cold spell, bringing temperatures down to the freezing level overnight, hit Central Florida just before the first performance on Friday. Just as the stark blue lights and snow falling from above set the perfect mood for the Snow performance at the Urban Rethink Studio, it was just as easy to glance out the window at Central Boulevard and spot pedestrians outside, all bundled up in winter jackets. That’s exactly what she was hoping for.

“I was really crossing my fingers, because it wasn’t cold out at all on Halloween,” Tamara said.

Leah said this is a winter show that doesn’t emphasize the holidays.

“It’s something to keep in mind, that this isn’t Christmas,” she said. “It’s fall and winter and snow.”

"Snow" mixes modern dance with marionettes and sculptural oddities.

This is the third year that the Marke Sisters and VOCI Dance have been performing Macabre Vignettes, which Leah said is the “umbrella name” for this evolving piece of work.

“It will always be that name,” she said. “It’s under a big umbrella that makes people feel all the elements connect.”

Tamara developed the concept, design, and artwork of the show, as well as the larger-than-life marionettes that haunt the dancers, and the costumes worn by the dancers.

Leah and Amanda Oost Bradberry did the choreography, with contributions from the dancers. The eclectic mix includes modern dance, art scultptures, ominous-looking puppets, music, and blue lights that definitely set the mood of winter – along with the snow that falls from above, letting the audience feel like they truly are in a winter wonderland.

“This is using dance as a medium to show and express,” Leah said of the hour-long show.

There are no chairs for the audience to sit on – they can stand anywhere they like inside the studio, and if they happen to get in the way of where the dancers are supposed to go, the performers gently brush them aside.  The audience gets even more involved when the witch crawls out of her hut bearing gifts — a tray filled with cupcakes which she hands out to the audience, with a cry of “Eat! Eat!”

But do they dare sample it after seeing the two rats on a skewer being roasted above her fire?

“For a lot of people, it’s seeing something like that for the first time,” Tamara said. “The crowd is definitely growing every year. They’re intrigued.”

While puppets have traditionally been thought of as entertainment for children, Tamara said this show takes them to a very different level. 

Puppets and sculptures play an important role in "Snow."

“It’s puppetry for grownups,” she said. “I think adults can walk through this. It’s mature puppetry, puppetry as art.”

In fact, the sisters said they’re hoping to tap into an emerging audience in Greater Orlando for intelligent and stimulating conceptual art.

“We’re hoping we’re part of a growth spurt,” Tamara said.

“Macabre Vignettes III: Snow” will be performed tonight at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., at Urban Rethinkm 625 E. Central Boulevard. Tickets are $20 at the door.

Get your photos now, but plan to check it out next summer: The Church of All Nations.

The Church of All Nations stadium is being built at the Holy Land Experience.

 ORLANDO – Jane Wilcox can see the people stopping their cars, getting out, and clicking photos of the property she works at. And with so much busy traffic rushing back and forth along Taft-Vineland Road, she sometimes wonders where they manage to park their cars.

“I don’t know how they stop,” she said. “They do seem to stop, though.”

What so many curious visitors have been taking photos of is a property highly visible to anyone who drives along Interstate 4 on a daily basis as they pass by the exit for Conroy Road: the massive stadium being built at the Holy Land Experience.

Construction has been going on all year, although the theme park’s guests will have to wait a little longer before they can check out the new building which will be called The Church of All Nations. It’s expected to be fully operational by early next summer.

Wilcox, the guest services supervisor at Hold Land Experience, said it would be a state of the art auditorium that would double as a high end, high definition television production facility that will air programming nationally and world wide by the Orlando theme park’s owner, Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Although billed as a theme park, Hold Land is different from competitors like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, which offer thrill rides. Holy Land Experience is a non-profit religious institution, whose central appeal is faith-based. The purpose there isn’t to entertain crowds but to tell the story of Jesus Christ through passion plays and historical reenactments.

In 2007, Trinity Broadcasting Network — which operates a station next door – purchased the park that has theaters with live performances of passion plays twice a day, the largest indoor model of the city of Jerusalem at the time of Christ, talks on Jerusalem at the time of Christ by a Bible scholar team made up of archeologists, and the Scriptorium museum, a center for Bible antiquities, which hosts 60-minute tours of the historic artifacts it holds.  

Trinity Broadcasting Network purchased Holy Land in 2007.

Holy Land also has a children’s section that allows young ones to listen to classic stories from the Bible, plus gift shops and a dining area.

Since Holy Land owns 10 acres across the street and a neighboring industrial park, there have ben expansion plans in the works for years, including the construction of the Church of All Nations amphitheater.

It ‘s expected to resemble a traditional Roman amphitheater that will host evening Christian concerts, theatrical productions, and special events. There are plans in the works for a new “Passion of Christ” dramatization, with Jesus literally ascending on high with the angels, and a “Hell’s Flames and Heaven’s Gates” passion play.

The amphitheater will seat 2,000 people and include a new food court, retail outlets, seating areas and cinema screens.

At the same time, Holy Land is also constructing another new attraction, Wilcox said.

“We do have the Christus Gardens opening soon,” she said. “It’s a devotional walk-through depicting inspirational scenes, like the birth of Christ. It’s not up and running yet, they’re building it now.”

Attendance at Holy Land tends to go up by 25 percent during Christmas time.

Still, Holy Land’s busiest time tends to be around Easter and the holiday season this month, with business rising by 25 percent around Christmas. Wilcox noted that Holy Land hopes to unveil Christus Gardens this month.

“It should be opening before Christmas day – hopefully,” she said.

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