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The drum roll, please

"Can you imagine singing in a closet full of clothes and then going to sing in the Sistine Chapel?" At last Wednesday's unveiling of the renovated Eastman Theatre stage --- to an original percussion fanfare performed on an historic snare drum --- RPO Maestro Christopher Seaman may have had the best metaphors. But everyone shared his enthusiasm.

James Undercofler, dean of the Eastman School of Music, said he believes the renovation "is what George Eastman would have done, if he could have." University of Rochester President Thomas H. Jackson called it the anchor of performing arts in Rochester; Mayor Bill Johnson called it a community jewel; Maggie Brooks called it the jewel of Monroe County. Undercofler said he hopes we can now add ourselves to a list of cities known for their performing arts venues: Paris, Vienna, London, Rochester.

The most dramatic portion of the $5 million renovation is a grand-looking custom shell (pictured, designed by Chaintreuil Jensen Stark Architects) that improves acoustics and adds clarity to music's sound without losing warmth, Seaman says. Other renovations include better mechanics and hydraulics for the orchestra pit and improved stage lighting. A new sprung wooden floor, originally part of the plan, was deemed unnecessary.

The lavish 1920s theater was originally commissioned by George Eastman as a home for performing arts and silent films. The theater is now the site mainly for Eastman School performances and the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concerts. The historically sensitive renovation (the second phase of which, for the Theatre's house, is in planning) was aimed at keeping the venue --- and somewhat by extension, Rochester's arts scene --- viable. As Mayor Johnson playfully said to Maestro Seaman at the unveiling, "We hope that because you have this gift you will re-up and stay here."

--- Erica Curtis

Labor pains?

Local unions are hoping to cut their losses in advance of a Monroe County budget season that could be rough for some public employees.

"We were kind of thinking we might take a bigger hit because of [County Executive Maggie Brooks'] Budget Advisory Team Report," says Monroe County Federation of Social Workers President John Vasko, who notes that the BAT report recommended some privatization of county services.

Last week his union, together with its umbrella organization the Communications Workers of America, called a press conference to release a report criticizing Republican budget practices which they called "self-interested, shortsighted, and misguided" in the report's title. Vasko cited examples like Frontier Field, which he said has cost the county $11.9 million since its construction in 1994, and special tax-incentive zones wooing businesses "that have not ever promised or created new jobs."

He also charges that the Budget Advisory Team lacked significant union representation; only one private sector union rep was asked to participate and no one from unions representing public workers was included, he says.

But the report also contains proactive measures designed to ease the county budget crunch. Vasko says he just wants "to be able to get a true dialogue between the county and the workers who do the work." That would save money (and union jobs, he hopes) by "creating a partnership with the workers who do the work and know where the cost-savings would be."

The union also wants the county to renegotiate the lease on Frontier Field, consider a proposal by Democrats in the County Legislature to import prescription drugs from Canada, and look at thawing the tax levy. That's at least one recommendation they share with the Budget Advisory Team.

Tutu speaks

Archbishop Desmond Tutu hardly needs an introduction. Indeed, the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, author, and leader in the African church community needed none to receive a standing ovation when he walked onto the stage of the University of Rochester's Palestra last Tuesday, October 5.

He spoke to the capacity crowd about his experiences as chairman of South Africa's ground-breaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission before taking questions from the audience. He also spoke to the press before his speech. Following are a few excerpts from that briefing:

On young people: "The fantastic thing about young people is this idealism. They are dreaming that it is possible for the world to become better. And where you would have thought that young people coming especially from fairly affluent homes would say 'oh, that's not my business,' they go out and they do things that are marvelous out of compassion, out of caring."

Wishing he could award the Nobel Peace Prize to Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) a second time: "These military guys armed to the teeth are running scared of her. I mean, it's just a fantastic thing to point up to the fact that there is something called moral authority. She has moral authority. That is what makes me so hopeful about the world, that the good will outlive the hate."

How the United States could be reconciled to its place in the world and its internal struggles: "By setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Quite seriously. When President Clinton was still in office and he visited South Africa, I said to him I believe this country has not really come to terms with its past. The things that have happened to Native Americans, African-Americans, and also even to Caucasians, you need to have a forum where people can tell their story. And the pain and the anguish that sit in the pit of the tummy of very many in this country might then be articulated and come up from where it is and maybe, just maybe, you could then come to terms with your past and be able to live more happily in your present and your future."

Asked to rate the character of the presidential candidates: "No. I hope that Americans are aware of the seriousness of the issues that hang on this particular election. The world is a great deal less secure than it was, after last year's incursion into Iraq. And things are happening that it wasn't even believed a democracy would allow to happen. Guantanamo Bay is just one of them. One would've expected that people who live in a vibrant democracy would ask a great deal more questions than you appear to have done. I'm sure that there are people who are involved and want to have been able to give expression to their concern. But as someone who comes from South Africa, having lived through a repressive regime, it's actually quite devastating to see many of the features from there being replicated here. You know we used to ask the apartheid government 'Why do you detain people without trial? Why do you put people under house arrest without benefit of due process?' Security. And now here is a democracy saying much the same, doing the same and the déjà vu is deeply distressing. Because I think this is a great country with wonderful people, and I would have expected that there would be a greater outcry at the violation of the basic human rights of those who are detained."