Monday, December 17, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

Like just about everyone, I am definitely aware of what happened Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I was actually subbing at one of the area high schools when I found out online.  It has been weighing on my mind as I've read the still-developing reports from the various news agencies and reading the many MANY Facebook status updates and comments that have been rolling in all day.  I'm writing this more to put my thoughts in some kind of order and hope that maybe they can help anyone reading this to find a little sense to this.

Of course first, all I can feel is absolute grief, especially for the families of the students killed.  While I am not a parent, I am a teacher, plus I have two young nephews and a new niece, so I certainly know the love and concern I have for their individual well-beings.  I also empathize with the feeling of realizing that a loved one, especially a child, isn't coming home, and the absolute despair that would bring to me.  For all those affected, but especially the parents of these kids and the families of those who lost loved ones, I can offer my thoughts and prayers of comfort.  I wish there was more I could do to ease grief like that, but there isn't.  Anyone who's been through the loss of a loved one knows this; there's always that part of you missing even after you get used to their absence.  Plus, that feeling of grief lingers long after the funerals and most of the expressions of sympathy dwindle, which makes it even more difficult.  While it may be a ways off, I pray that these families and those that remain do eventually find some comfort and peace even though I know things will never be "the same".

I've also thought a lot about the gunman.  From what I've gathered so far, it was a 20 year-old who first killed his mother and then went to the school and murdered kids in 2 classrooms and several other staff members before killing himself or somehow being killed.  What possessed him to do that is beyond me.  I do not know how anyone could look at a child of any age and hurt them in anyway, let alone shoot a gun at one to kill them.  Clearly something was wrong mentally, but what, exactly, remains to be seen.  I've read some expressions from people that they feel he "got off easy" since he is already dead.  From my Latter-day Saint perspective, I can tell you he certainly did not get off easy.  I suppose to people who don't believe in any kind of afterlife it may seem so; I can understand their feelings.  But for me, my understanding of what comes after death--and that death is simply a step in our much larger existence--tells me that not only will he face consequences, but he will (or already has) had to face each and every person he has taken the life of.  He will experience the grief he has caused so many people who remain.  So no, just because we do not get to witness the consequences he will face doesn't mean he won't get them or that they're somehow more enjoyable than being in prison and getting a lethal injection at some point.  If you believe in God and believe in an afterlife, then you know that God will take care of it and in a perfectly just and fair way (a concept which we as imperfect human beings really don't understand).

The scripture that has come to my mind several times has been Mark 9:42 (which can be cross-referenced to Matthew 18:6 and Luke  17:2): "And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea."  Killing in cold blood is bad enough.  Killing an innocent child, to me, is pretty much the absolute worst act a person can commit.

I've definitely been thinking a lot of the families directly involved in this and the whole concept of help.  Those of you who follow me on Facebook have most likely seen my posts about sending cards and even a few about some other charitable endeavors that have come up around the country.  I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the people who are spearheading these various things and promoting them to others haven't been through any kind of traumatic event themselves to know how best to help.  I'm sure that's not 100% true, but I've definitely wondered about it and that's what it seems to me.  I certainly don't fault their charitable desire to want to help.  I question, however, the best use of our own resources and abilities to help and, more importantly, if what many people are doing is actually helping at all.  It's perfectly normal in a situation like this that we feel helpless and frustrated to want to do something.  That's why we see these candlelight vigils, ribbons, memes, and other public displays of sympathy and solidarity across the country and world.  People want to show they do care and that's perfectly normal.  Really, though, the vast majority of those kinds of things are far more to comfort ourselves than anything else.  They make the participants feel better about the world and humanity when they see people come together in such a way.  I'm not someone who gets into very public displays of sympathy (this blog post is about my max) because of my own experiences in traumatic events, but even so, I certainly am not opposed to those kinds of things, even if I don't really think they're the best ways to help.  The best things that helped me were when someone asked me what I needed rather than assuming what they thought I needed or just said things like "best wishes", "call me if you need anything", or something to that effect.  That's what I'm seeing a lot here. People have wonderful and kind intentions of wanting to help, but they're thinking more along the lines of what they think these people need as opposed to anything they may have asked for or from their own personal experience in a traumatic situation.

What's my best solution for help?  Besides thoughts and prayers, money.  Yes, money.  I know people want to give something "more personal" than money, but when you are dealing with the mental stress from trauma, having to sort through more "stuff" from people is the last thing you want to do.  Having money gives the person in need some flexibility and allows them to make the choices on how to use it to best meet their needs.  Depending on the situation, more money may be needed to replace lost items or pay for unexpected bills.  And while it could be argued that simply giving them money also creates more work for them (they have to go out and buy what they need), I'd say that argument is weak since first, you can buy just about anything online these days, and second, being able to go out and pick out stuff that person actually wants can be a nice distraction.  In some cases it may be as simple as allowing them to go out for a nice dinner or two with family; in other cases, it may be as much as replacing an entire house full of things.  Either way, you can never really go wrong with money.  In this case, funds have already been set up to help the families deal with the costs associated with medical care and funerals, as well as other needs that may arise.  The United Way of Western Connecticut set up a fund with the Newtown Savings Bank that people can donate to online or by sending a check.  I know of at least one fund set up for the family of one of the victims and I would assume there are other similar funds set up by friends and relatives of other victims' families.  Be cautious in any kind of donation process that the cause and organization is legit.  It is not a crime to ask some questions before making a decision to donate money or other resources.  Make sure it's not only legit, but also what you would consider worthwhile.  For those of you who have gone through traumatic experiences, what helped you the most?  What didn't help at all?

And don't forget the family of the shooter.  They've lost a mother and a brother in the most horrific way possible, through no fault of their own.  On top of that, they now must not only live with the loss of their own loved ones, but also with the knowledge that the actions of a loved one has led to so much grief and sorrow for others.

I have additional thoughts about the whole debate regarding guns, gun control, mental health, and the 2nd amendment, but that will take an entire blog post of its own.  Suffice it to say, I don't think additional gun control measures will really do anything to prevent something like this and when I hear people say "we need more gun control", it's empty rhetoric to me.  What exactly does that mean?  What additional measures could be added that would have any kind of positive effect?  Are you aware of the laws and regulations already in place?  "More gun control" to me is ambiguous, akin to "fair share" that we've been hearing so much in the media.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Kent State football??

Katie and me in Bowling Green celebrating Kent's win over Bowling Green
In all the blog posts I've done over the years, especially the many devoted to sports and the games I have attended, it's been a long time since I've blogged about Kent State football.  The only time I can remember doing so was way back in 2008 when I went to Cleveland to see KSU play Boston College at Cleveland Browns Stadium.  The game ended up being a shutout loss for Kent, the day after I had seen Kent Roosevelt lose 14-0 to Stow.  Even so, I don't think I've ever had a post devoted exclusively to KSU football like I have for basketball (I totally missed blogging about Kent State Baseball's magical run to the College World Series earlier this year).  Since then, it's not that I haven't watched or been to my share of KSU football games, but there hasn't been much to really blog about; that is, until now.  Tomorrow, Kent State plays Northern Illinois at Ford Field in Detroit for the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Championship.  That in itself is monumental enough, but now there's even more cause for interest not only from KSU, NIU, and MAC fans, but nationally.  If Kent State wins, it could potentially become the latest Bowl Championship Series (BCS) "buster".  Yeah, you heard that right.  Kent State could play in a BCS bowl.

Not often you see large lines at the Dix Stadium ticket office!
Let's start off first with what Kent State football has accomplished this year.  They are 11-1 and 8-0 in the MAC and won the MAC East Division title by 2 games over Bowling Green.  In the process they beat undefeated and 18th-ranked Rutgers in their home stadium (and on Homecoming no less!) and have won 10 games in a row.  The win over Rutgers was Kent's first win in school history over a ranked opponent.  The 10-game winning streak is the longest in school history and the 11 wins this season is also the most in a season, breaking the 9 wins of the 1973 team (they were 9-2).  The MAC East Division title is the first conference title of any kind since the 1972 team won the MAC and KSU will play in a bowl game for the first time, also, since 1972 (when they played in the old Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Florida, in December 1972...the Tangerine Bowl is known today as the Capital One Bowl).  Kent State is also ranked in every major poll.  For the AP poll, it is Kent State's first time being ranked since November 1973, when they were ranked 18th in the 20-team poll for one week.  For the other polls, such as the Coaches' Poll and Harris Poll, as far as I know, this year is KSU's first time ever being in those polls.  So as you can see, this year has already been full of accomplishments Kent fans have either never seen before or haven't seen for a loooooong time.  In my lifetime, the best season Kent State ever had prior to this one was the 1987 season when they went 7-4.  I certainly don't remember that (I was 5 years old), though I do remember going to some games around that time.  The first winning season I remember was 2001 when the team, led by Josh Cribbs (who is now with the Cleveland Browns), finished 6-5.  It was the first winning season since 1987 and second since 1977.  This year's 11-1 record is the first winning season since that 2001 season, though since 2001 there have been a few 6-6 years too.  In 2011, Kent was 5-7 after starting 1-6.  In the last 2 seasons, both under coach Darrell Hazell, Kent State has been 16-8.  From 1989-2000, Kent State also won 16 games, while losing 115 and tying 1.  I was at a lot of those games!

While not sold out, KSU drew pretty well this season!  Over
18,200 for the last game against Ohio U.  HUGE improvement!
Now, to the BCS.  This is also the first time Kent State has ever been ranked in the BCS, which isn't that old.  After their regular-season-ending win over Ohio, combined with a slew of losses by teams ranked ahead of them, Kent State is now 17th in the BCS standings.  If they move up just one spot, they will clinch a berth in a BCS game.  The rule is a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference ("AQ") automatically qualifies for a BCS game if they finish in the top 16 *and* are ranked ahead of the conference champion of one of the AQ conferences (the AQ conferences are the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big East).  The other way for a "non-AQ" team to get in is to be ranked in the top 12 of the BCS, regardless of what teams in the AQ conferences do.  No MAC team has ever received a BCS bowl game (when a non-AQ team qualifies for a BCS game, they're known as a "BCS buster"), though Ball State would have qualified a few years ago had they won the MAC Championship Game as they were ranked 12th at the time.

The big talk around college football is first, of course, the feel-good story of a perennial loser like Kent State has been in football seemingly coming out of nowhere on the verge of busting the BCS.  The other story, though, is Kent State's one loss: a 47-17 loss to Kentucky in the season's second game, a Kentucky team that finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.  Many are questioning Kent State's seemingly lofty ranking in light of that loss.

The team doing the fight song after beating Bowling Green
As a Kent State fan, of course I'm of the belief that Kent State is right where they should be in the rankings and that if they do win the MAC Championship Game and do make a BCS bowl (most likely the Orange Bowl), there should really be no question.  I keep seeing the comments that Kent State lost "by 30 points to a 2-10 Kentucky team."  Yes, they lost by 30, but Kentucky was not 2-10 when they played Kent State, nor was Kent State 11-1 and ranked.  At the time, no one really paid attention to the outcome of the game.  Kentucky was favored in the game and KSU was the perennial loser from the MAC.  The game itself wasn't a rout until late either.  Elton Alexander, a reporter for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, wrote a good article about that game specifically and why it really shouldn't be held against Kent, at least as much as many have.  In my own observation of KSU football, they certainly weren't solidified as a team right away.  They looked decent in their opener against Towson of the FCS (a team which later gave LSU fits in Baton Rouge), then lost at Kentucky, won at Buffalo in an ugly, sloppy game, and then had a great comeback in the final seconds to beat Ball State in a wild 45-43 shootout.  I felt the Buffalo game got the team believing they could win (KSU rarely wins road games), and then the Ball State comeback, in a game they nearly gave away, told this team they were, in fact, a good team who could win even when they weren't at their best.  Plus, that last drive was one I've seen countless KSU teams completely fail on.  I have seen all too many losses snatched from the jaws of victory!  After the Ball State game, you definitely started feeling good.  They won at Army, which now seems insignificant, but at the time was yet another sign this team was for real (first non-conference road win in a looooong time).  Then, of course, they won at Rutgers.  After the Kentucky game, I was just hopeful Kent would be respectable in the game and maybe have a chance to eek out a win.  I never expected them to win the way they did.  Not only did they have 7 turnovers (6 interceptions), but they also ran the ball really well.  I've seen plenty of KSU teams do nothing with opportunities like that.

In looking at the schedule, I decided that if Kent State was doing reasonably well and the weather looked decent, I'd head over to Bowling Green for the game against the Falcons on November 17th, which I occasionally do for men's basketball.  The game ended up being the de facto MAC East Championship Game.  I was happy to see several hundred KSU fans also made the trip (the university sent 3 buses over too).  Not only did we have absolutely fantastic weather, but it was one heck of a game, going back and forth right down to the wire.  Kent State won 31-24, after stopping BG on 4th down in a previous drive and then intercepting a 4th down pass in the end zone on the Falcons' final drive with just 24 seconds left in the game.  It was my first true KSU football road game (I've gone to a few KSU men's and women's basketball road games over the years).  And of course I had an absolutely fantastic time with my sister Katie and my good friend and fellow KSU alum Michelle!
Just after the interception that clinched KSU's win at BG
The final!
Now, obviously all the BCS talk will be mute if Kent State doesn't beat NIU in the MAC Championship, and NIU is favored (it should be pointed out, however, that Bowling Green was favored too).  I honestly won't be surprised by the outcome of the game.  I thought from the beginning that NIU was the team to beat in the MAC, but I don't think they're invincible.  I can see KSU winning this game just as easily as I can see NIU winning.  It should be a great game.  I would go, but since the game is on a Friday night, getting to Detroit (about a 3-hour drive) would be tricky since I'll be working until 3 PM that day, not to mention all the costs like gasoline and parking.  I'll definitely be following the game here in Kent.  Go Flashes!

Sunday, October 14, 2012


I'm going to start this off with a disclaimer: this isn't directed at any one specific person.  As is the case for just about anything I blog about, there have been several instances with a variety of people in these regards; recent occurrences were simply the most recent events, so I decided to blog about the general theme behind them, but not a specific incident.  I guess they could be considered the "straws that broke the camel's back" or just the most recent "incidents".

Facebook and social networking in general have been remarkable inventions in the last few years that have really revolutionized how we interact with each other and even how we express ourselves.  With very simple acts, we can share opinions, news, memories, etc. with all sorts of connections in our lives, some very close connections and some not-so-close.  But with that ease of communication comes the ease of passing less-than-accurate and sometimes mean-spirited information along too.  I've often said that this could easily be called the "Mis-information Age" as much as it can be called the "Information Age".  But it could be called the "Disrespect Age" too.

Everyone has their personal beliefs and preferences.  I get that and respect it.  I have tons of friends who do not share my political, ideological, and/or religious beliefs.  Even with that I'm still friends because we share the same basic values even if we don't have the same beliefs anywhere else.  Growing up in Kent, I was very much the ideological minority as a conservative and as a Latter-day Saint, so it's natural I made friends with many people who see the world in very different ways than I do.  That is not a problem.  I don't mind at all when we have disagreements or even spirited discussions, but I'm always somewhat surprised and disappointed when I see friends via Facebook expressing their views in such a way that it insults someone else's views.  I'm glad I know lots of people with different viewpoints and experiences because it helps me understand them better and not be so quick to lump those that disagree with me on various issues into the "us and them" categories.  I can put actual faces with the various viewpoints and I've found it's much easier to be respectful and patient that way in disagreements.  It also helps me know when to break off an argument and "agree to disagree". 

Now, I'll be the first to say that as a collective society we are offended way too easily.  Brigham Young, likely quoting Confucius, said "He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool."  So to clarify, when I see something that comes across as deliberately insulting or demeaning, it's not so much that I no longer wish to be associated with the person (unless it's directed solely at me) or that I'm offended so much as I'm disappointed.  Usually it's in the form of sharing an article or a status that has some type of commentary about a group, movement, idea, or belief system that is done in a way to not only show disagreement, but outright disdain.  I always wonder if they realize that they have friends who actually believe that way and with good reason or if they really care.  Sometimes we get that way in actual conversation; you know how you think those around you share the same beliefs so you let your guard down and say things (usually generalizations) about something and then realize that person is part of that. Most of us are horrified and want to apologize for making that person uncomfortable or offended in some way.  Does being sorry for doing that mean you now agree with that person's views?  Hardly.  It just means you realize that disagreeing doesn't have to be so negative and that some things (like a relationship) are more important than expressing our opinion.

One of the biggest downsides of electronic communication versus live communication is that it's much easier to say things online behind our computer screens that would we'd think twice about in person.  Would we be so quick to bash Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party members, Liberals, Progressives, Conservatives, Mormons, Catholics, or whoever in person if we knew someone was in the room (especially if we were speaking to a friend who was one) the way so many do online?  I doubt it.  I'm not really sure why we feel that sensitivity, good manners, and simple politeness don't apply online, but far too many people clearly believe that.  It's to the point with some of my friends that I just filter out their updates.  I still want to be connected to them and touch base when I can, but not see their angry, demeaning, or otherwise insulting commentary on a regular basis.  And no, it's not simply a case of seeing stuff I disagree with; it's a matter of it being presented in a condescending or otherwise insulting way.

I try very hard to present my views without insulting or belittling those who disagree or share the opposing viewpoint, by making it sound like those who disagree with me are merely stubborn or less educated.  I also always include logical reasons for why I believe as I do, not just spouting baseless opinions.  I'm obviously not perfect and have definitely been guilty of getting caught up in the emotion, but I am usually very careful about that. Those of you who know me know that I take it seriously. It IS possible to do all of that.  You CAN even show that you disagree or don't like something without having it come across as insulting to someone who holds the opposite view.  And no, I don't mean we need to "play nice" and pretend we like something we don't or never have an opinion, even a strong opinion.  It's a matter of HOW we express our opinions not that we have them.  That's why I have generally stayed away from saying much of anything political lately on Facebook either as a status update or post or even commenting on others' posts (I will occasionally).   It just surprises me that people would say some of the things they do on Facebook or any type of social media and not care how it may be perceived.  I highly doubt any of them would ever say that in person to anyone, especially someone they consider a friend. And really, how effective is it when you are told you're "less educated" or "narrow minded", etc?  Does it really make you want to listen to that person?  How "educated" or "tolerant" are they if they cannot even express their views without insulting and belittling those that disagree?

It disappoints me the most when I see members of the church using the same mentality on other groups they disagree with or have a bad opinion of that anti-Mormons use in that they speak badly about the church and its doctrine without ever bothering to attend a meeting, discuss it with an actual member, or make any real attempt to understand it.  They go on "what they've read" or "what they've heard." Again, doing any of those things doesn't necessarily mean that you'll agree with whatever group you have a negative impression, but it does mean you'll have a far more realistic and fuller view of them, what they believe, and why.  It just seems like many people behave in such a manner that they believe if you aren't completely hostile to the opposing viewpoint, you will be considered sympathetic to that view.  Yes, it IS possible to be respectful without agreeing in any way with the opposition.  Why is respectful and civil discourse so seemingly difficult?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


After performing the National Anthem for the Cleveland Indians back in June, I thought it was pretty awesome that I had been given more opportunities than I ever imagined (3 in the season at that point).  After my first performance, I thought I might get one additional chance during the rest of the season, similar to what I had in 2011.  In June, I thought I might get one more chance during the season since there were still several months left.  Even so, I didn't expect anything, so was still presently surprised when I got called back in August to perform at the August 6th game against the Minnesota Twins.  Four times in one season?  Awesome!  Well, imagine my surprise last week when I got called to sing for a 5th time this season at the September 16th game against the Tigers.  At the time I was in Indiana visiting my sister, brother-in-law, and nephews, so was glad the date they asked me for was a date I would be back in Kent.  Like every other time I've sung since that first time in April, I was wonderfully surprised to hear from the Indians!

I have been very fortunate not only in being asked to come back by the Indians this many times, but being available for the dates they have asked.  During the run of This is Kirtland! this summer, I was a bit worried I'd be asked to sing on a day I had a show.  I figured my 100% acceptance rate was a factor in them asking me again, something that was confirmed a bit when I sang on September 16th.  When I arrived on the field, I was told by the staff that I have the nickname of "old reliable".  When the guys (I believe it was the announcer and scoreboard operator) asked who was singing the anthem for that game. that's all they said.  They knew exactly who "old reliable" was ("Oh, Jon Ridinger.").  Too funny, though gratifying at the same time. Fortunately, I wasn't called to sing during the TIK run, though my June 16th and August 6th performances were sandwiched around the run (July 6-24).  When I came down on the field for this most recent game, it was also different in that I didn't meet someone from the Indians' staff to escort me to the field.  I simply walked down to the field and the ushers knew who I was ("Oh, you're Mr. Ridinger") and let me in.  I even took my sister with me and the only thing anyone said is "oh, who is this?" so I introduced her.

Getting the mic from David Cantu, the guy in charge of coordinating the National Anthem among other duties
Waiting to sing...there were a ton of kids there because Sunday is "Kids' Fun Day" at Progressive Field...very cool program the Indians do where kids get to take the field and then the players come and join them!
On the scoreboard...
As I was finishing (you can see people already clapping and my right leg moving...)
Coming off the field feeling good about my performance :)

I was happy with my performance as evidenced by my smile as I walked back to where Katie was waiting.  Singing the anthem, as I've said before, never gets old for me.  I hope to continue doing it for the Tribe, even when they get good again and there are large crowds.  What a rush it would be for me to perform for a sellout or even a playoff game.  I also let them know I can do "God Bless America", which is performed during the 7th inning stretch for Sunday games.  Right now, they simply play the famous Kate Smith recording and then do "Take Me Out to the Ballgame".  The cool thing about "God Bless America" is that, for whatever reasons, they broadcast that as part of the game where the National Anthem is done while the TV guys are doing their pregame show and is thus not shown on TV.  The only time you see the anthem on TV is when it's something like a playoff game and they have some celebrity doing it.

Anyway, I'm planning on auditioning for the Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters (Cleveland's American Hockey League team that shares Quicken Loans Arena with the Cavs) this Saturday at the Q.  I auditioned for the Cavs and Monsters last year the same day I sang the anthem for the Indians.  I'd say the anthem for the Indians went much better than my audition for the Cavs.  Hopefully this year will be better.  Having a full NBA season will help too.  Hopefully I can get at least one Cavs game and then all I'll need to do is miraculously get a Browns game in the future.  As much as I'd like that, it's next to impossible since the Browns only have 8 home games per year (plus 2 pre-season exhibition games).

This is what I was talking about with the Kids' program the Indians do where a group of kids takes the field (with a full introduction from the announcer no less) and then the Indians players take the field with them.  I thought this was a cool picture.  I hope my kids and my nieces and nephews can do something like this!

Friday, August 31, 2012

i2 Discovery Cruise

I'm hoping this can be a help to people who are searching for more information on the i2 Discovery Cruise so they can make a more informed decision than I was able to.  While I was looking for information, there was hardly anything available on this cruise, good or bad, so it was very difficult to ascertain what it was exactly.

In a nutshell, the i2 Discovery Cruise is a program produced by the International Models and Talent Association (IMTA) and ICE Model Talent Management that features scouted talent in a number of modeling and talent competitions over a five-day period.  Watching these competitions are representatives of modeling and talent scouts from around the country and even outside the US.  We were told this is a lower-cost option to the regular IMTA conventions, which are larger and are held annually in New York (June) and Los Angeles (January).  If I remember right, the i2 has been around since 2005.

In doing research, virtually all of what I found related to the main IMTA conventions in New York or LA and IMTA itself.  The basic charge is that they are scams, or at the very least, way overpriced.  I wasn't able to find any direct pricing for those conventions, but comments indicated they were in the neighborhood of $5,000 just to attend.  There were charges that the model and talent agencies represented at IMTA weren't really any of the industry's top names along with allegations that the judges for the competitions were in many cases corrupt.  In the age of the Internet, it's hard to tell how accurate or wide-spread these charges are.  At the very least, it seems the convention is vastly overpriced.  The i2, we were told, was developed as a lower-cost option for people because IMTA felt they were losing a lot of talent because people just couldn't afford to go to New York or LA.  Looking back, the presenter made it sound like getting to LA or New York was the problem, when actually it seems that the convention itself is the biggest problem financially.  IMTA itself has a long list of famous alums (Elijah Wood, Ashton Kutcher, etc), but like any alumni list, it seems to be a tiny fraction of the amount of people they actually deal with.

How did I get involved with all this?  About 2 weeks ago I received an email that talent scouts from IMTA would be in Cleveland on August 24th and that I needed to email back to reserve a spot.  I figured what the heck, and did.  The audition was held at the large Holiday Inn in the Cleveland suburb of Independence, Ohio.  Going into the audition I knew almost nothing about what I was auditioning for or even what to expect or prepare.  The instructions from the follow-up email (which came several days after my reply) were very vague.  When I got to the audition, things continued to be vague.  The table where we signed in wasn't marked with any kind of sign and only after I found a flyer that had some information did I even realize it was for some kind of cruise.  Further, I don't think the email that said I had to "reserve" a spot was accurate.  When I got there, we signed in.  There was no other list they checked to see if I had "reserved a spot" and everyone who came auditioned together.

I went through the audition mainly just for the experience of it all.  The audition had only about 20 people, varying in age from 5 years to 30 or so.  Each of us did a runway walk like a model and then read a short ad like we were doing a commercial.  Before that there was a video about the cruise (the same video that can be seen at and about IMTA.  The only mention of cost was that it would require a small "investment" on our part.  Absolutely no details about cost of any kind were given at this first audition.  Looking back, the audition seemed WAY too simple and easy.  I felt like I did well, but not THAT well (maybe relatively) and it certainly didn't seem like a very accurate way to determine how talented or not talented I was (or anyone else there).  In small print was the fact that this audition was organized by (and ultimately booked trough) ICE Model Talent Management, an agency with offices in Charlotte, Cincinnati, and Toronto.  ICE produces the i2 with IMTA.  It's not totally clear what the relationship is between ICE and IMTA, though.  ICE's website was rather unhelpful in terms of information and while they have their own website for the i2 Cruise (at, all the forms and info packets you could download were from 2008 and did not mention the price.   

Well, I made callbacks for the next day, which were held at the same hotel.  The second stage was an interview process.  We were shown some more videos and finally given a breakdown of the actual costs, which totaled $2,695.  That included a $795 (the paperwork said $695) deposit, said to be non-refundable, but does not include getting to and from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  Just for kicks, I checked out the prices for the cruise itself, which is on the Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas.  The total cost for a basic interior stateroom, which is what the $2,695 will get you, is about $1,600, meaning the program itself costs about $1,000.  As for my interview, it wasn't much of an interview to be honest.  It was more of a "do you want to do this" type of thing and "you're so awesome" pep rally with just a few questions about my experience in theater and music.  For someone like me who's had job application after job application not even looked at, it was definitely something I wanted to hear.  Unfortunately, it was also accompanied with urgency that I needed to commit right there without any more discussion.  The people around me were very nice.  I didn't feel immense pressure, but definitely felt some pressure to accept this or I'd never get another chance.

Now, do I think this is a flat-out scam?  No.  It's not a scam in that you really will get a cruise for your money and there will be a program as advertised.  That's not the issue.  The issues for me are, first, that those responsible are not up front about the cost from the moment you walk in that door.  There is absolutely no reason that information needs to be withheld until right before the decision needs to be made, especially if this is a legitimate operation.  The website provided doesn't make any mention of the costs either.  Why?  I was told that's standard practice and they don't disclose that information until they've narrowed it down to the people who they feel are "interested" (i.e. the ones that make callbacks).  Heck, I think if I had known about the costs up front, I would've left right then and let someone else take my callback slot.  Initially, I think I expected that all I'd have to pay for was getting to Florida if I was selected.  Boy was I clueless!!

Second, with any such large decision like this that involves lots of money, there should be some kind of grace period to back out if circumstances arise.  Along with that there should be a period to consider it, even a day or two, rather than making it something that needs to be decided right then.  Making it immediately binding and non-refundable just reeks of greed and money-grabbing as opposed to genuinely searching for talent and providing a lower-cost alternative to be "discovered".  Further, the no-refund policy does not come from the cruise company, Royal Caribbean.  RC's own website gives people a minimum of 60 days to cancel cruise reservations for a full refund.  Anything after that and partial refunds are given.  RC will not refund the deposit only once the 60-day threshold is crossed.  That is not a day that has been crossed yet as the cruise is scheduled for November 10th (71 days from now).

In looking up Ohio law, though, we have what is known as a "rescission" right, as part of the 1973 Home Solicitation Sales Act.  This applies to any good or service over $25 sold at a place rented by the seller on a temporary basis (like a hotel conference room, for instance).  Merchants must provide information about rescission rights (in writing), something that was not given to me (and likely not anyone else), and it gives consumers three days to rescind a contract or payment.  Funny, when I brought that to their attention today, it was met with the "well, every state has different laws..." excuse.  IMTA is also doing the "you have a reserved spot" excuse like I prevented someone else from going.  Cry me a river.  If they really wanted to, they could contact any of the other people they auditioned not only here in Cleveland, but elsewhere.  They have their contact information from the audition form.  They said Cleveland was their last stop.  It may have been, but that's not my problem.  I didn't make their schedule; I should not be penalized because of their schedule.

Again, while I don't think it's a flat-out scam, it certainly has the characteristics of a scam in terms of quickly snaring you with no way out and acting like if you do want out that it will cripple them financially.  I hope that people will find this post when they Google this cruise and IMTA in general.  It's definitely a case of buyer beware.  If it's in your budget and something you want to do, go for it.  I don't doubt there will be some exposure from such an event, even if it isn't necessarily the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.  All indications show that this is a legitimate cruise (though you can book a spot on this cruise without the IMTA stuff, so it's not an exclusive cruise), though I can't really speak for the quality of the agents attending since I have never been and obviously won't be going.  But if it's not in your budget, there are many other ways to be "discovered" that don't involve huge financial losses for people who are more in my situation and can't afford $1,000 conventions. I'm learning as I go; learn from my mistakes and experiences!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My TIK evolution

This past Friday, July 6th, marked the opening of my seventh run with This is Kirtland! I first appeared in the show, which I often simply refer to as "TIK", back in 2005 and have done it every summer since, except 2008, when I was in graduate school at Kent State.  It has become a rite of summer for me and something I generally look forward to.  Here's a look at my TIK evolution.

I actually first started with TIK the very first year it was started, 2004.  I had just finished my first semester back at Kent State after coming back from my mission, but was unaware that the Kirtland Stake (a stake in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a group of local congregations, similar to a Catholic diocese) had created a new musical production, complete with a full lighting system.  The only reason I found out is because the stake leadership asked my dad to come install the lights, which were all brand new.  They asked my dad because of his work with the previous Kirtland production back in the 1980s, which is actually my earliest memory as a child.  Dad asked me to come help him hang, connect, and aim the lights, which also included quite a bit of time taking care of things at the store where the lights were purchased.  When the show was over, I helped take the lights down and put them into storage.  I attended opening night of the show, never thinking that I would become a veteran of that show in due time.  In watching I remember not being all that impressed with it overall (sorry guys!), but my dad mentioned that maybe in the next year, I could try out for it.

Later in 2004, I transferred to BYU-Idaho, so I wasn't back in Ohio when tryouts were held for the 2005 show.  My dad talked to the director, Polly Dunn, and I was able to get a late tryout up at the Mayfield building, which was good enough to get me a small chorus role since the roles had already been cast by then.  I was officially cast as the character of Titus Billings (who had no lines and was never identified as such), but had lines as "John Johnson".  Those lines have since been reassigned to the characters of John Tanner (the debt forgiveness of Parley Pratt) and Heber C. Kimball (logs from clearing fields) and John Johnson isn't even mentioned in the script now.  It was my first time doing a show since I was the Herald in Cinderella in high school.  At the time, I was also working at Geauga Lake in Aurora, so I was very tan and would basically come straight to rehearsals and eventually performances straight from work.  That was true in 2006 too.
At the conclusion of the 2005 run with Lisa Parker, who played my wife 
Testimony song

2006 was similar in that I wasn't home for tryouts, but since I knew ahead of time, I made an audition CD that I sent in.  Apparently it didn't make much difference.  I found out as I was driving home from New Mexico (I had gone down there after school was over before heading back to Ohio) in late April that I was basically in the chorus again, which was disappointing at the time.  I ended up doing the role of Professor Seixas (pronounced "SAY shuss"), which is only for one scene, and then being a general "Kirtland Saint" the rest of the show, where I had one other line.  I think I had an actual name (usually every cast member has a specific character name even if they don't have any lines), but I don't remember what it was.  The fun part was that I had two costumes, one for Seixas (a non-Mormon teacher of Hebrew) and my other character.  The other big difference for '06 was that my sister was in the show as Emma Smith and a friend from my ward (congregation) was also in the show that year, so I wasn't the only "outsider" (not a member of the Kirtland Stake) in the cast like I was in '05.

As Professor Seixas
As a Kirtland Saint...I don't remember what my actual character name was
Character portrait as Professor Seixas...this was part of an awesome display of the cast

In 2007, because of a change in the schedule at BYU-Idaho, I was home in early April, so I was able to actually audition with everyone else for the first time.  For callbacks, though, I had to do those earlier than everyone else because I took a trip to the United Kingdom.  That year, I got a slightly more notable role, that of Newel K. Whitney.  I had a very small duet to open the show and then a few lines scattered in different scenes.  I found out about the role while I was in the UK, and again, was a bit disappointed.  Nevertheless, I did the role.  My sister was pretty bummed too because after being Emma the year before, she was cast as Keziah Rollins in '07.  In the end it worked out for her for other reasons, but it was still very frustrating at times.  I didn't even dance in any of the feast dances that year.

As N.K. Whitney with my "family" after the show
As N.K. Whitney in the opening scene

I nearly did the show in 2008, but the morning of auditions, I just never got up and decided it would be a good idea to not do the show because grad school was looming and I really didn't know what to expect.  I also wasn't too excited about doing the show because I felt like I was being overlooked as far as my acting and vocal abilities and often found myself frustrated after rehearsals.  I think if I had been more excited about the show, I probably would have tried to make it work with grad school.  As it turned out, grad school was a lot of work and I'm glad I didn't have to worry about the show that summer, but I still think I could've somehow made it work if I had really wanted to.  Looking back, though, it was a good decision to not be in the show that year and I remember thinking to myself as grad school got underway that June that I was glad I didn't have to worry about driving up to Kirtland every night and could take my time on the various projects I had to do for my classes.  I did go see the show and enjoyed seeing so many friends. It was the last show directed by the original director before she moved to Utah.

When auditions came along for 2009, I was nearing the end of my student teaching.  I remember coming to auditions and being under a ton of stress because I needed to get lesson plans done and other worries from grad school and what was going on in my life outside of school.  The entire first half of 2009 was, so far, the most stressful time of my life and I often look back and wonder how I ever made it through.  Being in TIK that year was a major boost physically and spiritually and was a major highlight in a very dark time for me.  I remember at the audition that I did very well and those there were like "where did THAT come from?"  For me, it was like "about time y'all noticed!"  I was cast as Sidney Rigdon and absolutely loved the show that year.  Even now, it's still my favorite year overall and what I compare other years to.  Everything seemed to come together that year and the cast was so cohesive and close.  2009 also saw expansion of the show with some additional characters (two minor characters and one major character) and a new song.  The '09 run was the first time I really felt appreciated for my talents and previous experience with the show.  That's not to say I wasn't appreciated before, but it was especially strong in 2009.  I was also in the couples' dance in the big feast scene, which was a first for me and something I really enjoyed.

Sidney Rigdon in final scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the feast scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the opening scene

After the uplifting experience of 2009, 2010 was very frustrating.  I was again cast as Sidney Rigdon, which was disappointing at the time because I already knew the part, so there was little challenge for me.  When I have to drive 50 minutes to get to rehearsal, I want some kind of challenge.  On top of that, some of the other casting was surprising to me, plus we had a huge turnover from the '09 cast as pretty much half the cast was new, and we had a new director again.  There were several other changes to the staging and flow of the show I didn't really care for (especially my noted disdain for the main act curtain) and rehearsals again became very frustrating for me too frequently.  In the end, I had a great time with the cast (always do!), but I was frustrated after that year, especially in light of the 2009 show.  It was during the 2010 show that I was asked to be on the script committee for the first time (which met in the winter), which was a great experience.

As Sidney Rigdon at the beginning of the education scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the education scene
As Sidney Rigdon in the final scene (temple dedication).  And yes, it was the same costume as the year before!

In 2011 we got a new director again, so after having the same director for the first five seasons, we went through three different directors in the next three years.  2011 was the first time I actually played a role in the preparation for the show (other than hanging the lights) as I had been a member of the script committee.  With a new director came more changes and 2011 had some of the biggest changes in terms of scene order and the Lorenzo Snow song ("Lorenzo's Song"), which had been added in 2009, was changed to be a duet with Lorenzo's sister Eliza.  I wasn't too thrilled about the changes in order, but they ended up working OK. They generally made scene changes somewhat cumbersome, especially when we had successive scenes in the same place.  I was cast as Lorenzo Snow, a role I had wanted in 2009 (though thoroughly enjoyed playing Sidney Rigdon that year).  I loved doing the Lorenzo Snow role.  Not only was it a new challenge for me, but Lorenzo Snow grew up in the same county (Portage County) I am from, so there was definitely that personal connection.  I also had a solo in the new Temple Building song, which was added at the end of the show to replace spoken words by the narrator (Christopher Crary).  In that solo I really learned how to manage my voice and that singing in my head voice and falsetto is something I have to limit and space out!  I'm a baritone with a high range, not a first tenor, even though I frequently end up singing first tenor in the show.

As Lorenzo Snow in Lorenzo's Question scene
As Lorenzo Snow during Lorenzo's Song
As Lorenzo Snow after a rehearsal
As Lorenzo Snow after a performance

I'm glad the 2012 season has opened.  I can't say it hasn't been very frustrating at times, but overall, I've had fun with my fellow cast members and I do look forward to being around them, especially as I've gotten to know them more.  We had the same director as we had in '11 and I was again part of the script committee in the "off-season", this time also helping to edit the Temple Building song.  Can't say very much, if any, of my edits were actually used, though.  We also shifted some scenes around again so the show seems to flow pretty well.  Overall I like the changes made this year.  I was cast as Parley Pratt, which I admit, I was less than thrilled with back in April.  That was because the Parley role doesn't really have a lot of vocal parts and let's be honest: I love to sing.  To placate me, I was again given the solo in the revamped Temple Building song (it's not assigned to a particular character), which goes into a trio.  It's the exact same solo and trio as last year, the main difference is that all the singing below it was taken out, so it's just me singing!  I've come to enjoy the Parley Pratt role, especially because his main scene is probably the one I have parodied the most in my time doing the show over the years (the fire scene).  Opening night went pretty well this year and am looking forward to continuing the run tonight in week two.  In all fairness, though, some of my frustrations this year have been due to external factors, not just the happenings at rehearsal itself.  In any case, rehearsals are done!  Come see the show!

As Parley Pratt in the opening scene
As Parley Pratt in the fire scene
As Parley Pratt in the temple building scene singing in the trio
As Parley Pratt in the temple dedication (final) scene

I am often asked why I do the show, plus I think about it, especially in times like now where money is very tight.  There are three main reasons I do the show.  First, it's one of the few creative outlets I can count on every year where I'll have some kind of role and will be appreciated for my abilities and experience.  It's the only such chance I have in theater at this point.  Second is the people I work with.  They are people I enjoy being around.  I can't think of any member of this show--cast, crew, or orchestra--that I just couldn't stand being around.  They are good people that make me feel good about myself and generally lift my mood when it's down.  Third is my love of the Church and Church History.  This is a chance to share our story in a fun way that combines music, theater, and history--all things I love--together in one production.  That said, I am not sure what next year holds.  A lot will depend on where I am in life and what decisions are made regarding the direction the show will go after this year.  Still a lot of variables to play out before next year!  Even so, if you haven't seen the show, come see it.  Best of all: it's FREE and isn't even that long of a show!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

So nice I did it...uh, three times!

Back in April when I sang for the Cleveland Indians, I let the guy in charge of coordinating the anthem singers know that I would be available in the event that someone canceled on them and they needed a singer on relatively short notice.  Given that it's a 45-minute drive to downtown Cleveland from Kent, getting there usually isn't much of a problem.  Most of the times I sang for Kent State this past season were all on short notice too.  And by short notice I mean like getting an email or phone call the day of a game and singing that evening.  Well, I figured I might get one more Indians game this season, much like last year when I got to sing for a late September game after it was rescheduled from an earlier rain-out and the previous singer couldn't do the new date.  I also figured, like last year, it would be late in the season.  I never expected to get anything that soon after singing in late April.  Well, turns out I was totally wrong.  I got called on May 16th to sing at the May 22 game against Detroit and then I was even more surprised and excited when I got called June 6th to sing at the June 16th game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

My dad, sister Katie, and her friend Claire came to the game against the Tigers.  Dad came again to the game this past Saturday against the Pirates and my friends Michelle and Julie were able to come again after missing out when I sang in April because of the huge rain delay.  No such rain delay this time!  To make the June 16th game even cooler was the fact that it was part of Marine Week in Cleveland.  Before the game, the Marine Silent Drill Platoon performed and then just before I sang, the Marine Color Guard presented the colors and a HUGE American flag was brought out that covered most of the outfield.  Being the patriot and flag lover that I am, I certainly appreciated that.  To top it off, at the conclusion of my singing, there was a flyover from two Marine helicopters.  The only downside for me, as you can see in the pictures, was that my first name was spelled wrong ("John" instead if "Jon").  When it came up on the scoreboard, all I could do was laugh a little bit before I started singing.  At least they pronounced "Ridinger" correctly!

Waiting to go on before the May 22 game against the Detroit Tigers
On the scoreboard for the May 22 game
The attendance was just over 15,000 for the May 22 game.  Obviously not everyone is there when the anthem is performed
Me with my sister Katie (center) and her good friend Claire.  Claire has come to some other games with us and we've always had fun!
When I was called for the June 16th game, because of the flyover at the end of my singing, they had to know how long it would take me to sing so they could time it. As a result, I had to time myself singing the anthem. I now know it takes me right about 83 seconds (1 minute 23 seconds) to sing the anthem the way I typically do it. As I've performed the anthem through the years, I've found that people really do appreciate it being performed traditionally and at a good tempo. Not too fast, though, but definitely not too slow, which is usually the problem. I know my Grandpa Ridinger, who is now 87 years old and has never been a patient man, has always appreciated that I keep it moving when I sing. Anyway, the helicopters came from right-center field, so from where I was standing behind home plate, I could easily see them coming. As they were getting pretty close and the song was winding down, I was thinking "I need to finish this up before they're on top of me!"  I finished just as they were over the field.  Whew!

Thanks to my friend Michelle for taking the pictures of me singing.  My dad usually takes pictures, but this time he was getting some video to get the flyover, so I told whomever wanted to claim my two extra tickets to the game that they had to meet me at the Will Call window at 3:10 PM and had to take pictures while I sang!  Michelle and Julie did both!  :)  Yeah for friends!

Waiting to go on before the June 16th game against the Pittsburgh Pirates
US Marines Silent Drill Platoon performing before the game on June 16th
Color Guard presenting the colors just before I sang.  They were on the infield between 2nd base and the pitcher's mound.  I was standing  behind home plate on the edge of the grass near the large script "Indians".  After I sang, I rode in the elevator with the Color Guard.  Never felt safer in my life with four Marines and their shotguns!  
Singing while I am photographed (would love to find a copy of the photograph that is apparently being taken of me here...)
Huge American flag in the outfield with my name in the background on one of the scoreboards over right field (and name spelled wrong!).  Bigger crowd for this game too with attendance just over 30,000
On the main scoreboard with the aforementioned misspelling of my first name.  Like I said, all I could do was laugh about it for a second before I started singing
Helicopters flying over just as I finished singing
As I've said before, singing the anthem never gets old for me.  I thoroughly enjoy performing every time just like it's my first.  Having three times already this season to sing for the Tribe has been a wonderful opportunity and hope I can do it again!