'Spinning' may sound familiar


Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 11:29 p.m.

In 2000, one coward ignited a firestorm in Marion County by placing an anonymous letter in faculty boxes at North Marion Middle School. The writer suggested black teachers should stop complaining about bigotry and "go back to Africa."

The letter was packed with other slurs.

The letter cut deep. Parents pulled children out of class, protesters gathered outside the school, steering committees faced angry teachers and a community nearly imploded.

And as the clamor finally quelled, many wondered if this bigot had been worth the ruckus. The writer was never found, and the educational process was severely disrupted. One letter from one moron. Yet positive discussions emerged about long-standing problems, and the community was forced to look deep within itself.

Similar discussions may - and, perhaps, should - arise in Gainesville next week as the powerful "Spinning Into Butter" opens Thursday at UF's Constans Theatre Black Box.

Based on a real incident at Middlebury College in the 1980s, the play centers on a black student who is harassed by letters laced with racial slurs. The story is framed by faculty and student reaction, raising questions about relationships and political correctness.

Written by Rebecca Gilman, "Spinning Into Butter" has been heralded for its wit as much as its weight. The show starts its four-day run on Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Constans Theatre Black Box on the UF campus.

Those who remember the ruckus at North Marion Middle (not far from the Alachua County line) may be awash in deja vu. It would be tempting to call this art imitating life, but since this play resurrects yet one more true story, just call it another plank for discussion.

WILD WEEK:

After the holiday entertainment drought, the flood of upcoming options is as diverse as it is overwhelming. "Tonight Show" writer, HBO staple and humor columnist Phil Perrier will perform at Coconuts Comedy Club today and Saturday. I know this because Phil e-mailed me a news release this week with the words "SEX CRAZED MIDGITS!!!" (cq) in the subject field.

Sounds like this could be fun, as Perrier appears to be no passing fancy.

On Saturday, things get a little more serious - and surreal - with the Public Firewalking Experience at the Florida School of Massage. This workshop deals with overcoming fear, as organizers contend the fire is a metaphor for life's challenges.

But that metaphor translates into real hot coals beckoning bare feet. The workshop teaches how to walk over the fire unharmed.

Registration starts at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $75 for newcomers, $50 for experienced walkers and $25 for children.

For children who prefer stomping their feet without hot coals, Mr. Al will be in town for two shows on Tuesday. Mr. Al the "edu-tainer" visits Gainesville each year, and school groups make up the bulk of his audience (the shows are at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.).

But the program is open to pre-school children, too. Mr. Al, who is touring behind his "Kids Rock Too" and "Put Your Groove On" CDs, has a master's degree in education. His rock band once opened for Bruce Springsteen before Mr. Al began mixing his music with his teaching talents.

The shows will be at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

And on Monday, it's time for dinner and a movie - plus slices of the area's best independent films. The Hippodrome Cinema celebrates its 21st anniversary with a gourmet potluck/film night. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. The film "Like Water for Chocolate" starts at 7 p.m., with selections from the Gainesville Underground Film Festival to follow.

Dave Schlenker can be reached at 374-5045 or Scene@gvillesun.com.

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