Monday, November 30, 2009

007 - Joe Pizza

"Because the box is square."  That was Joe's response when I asked him why the pizza is square.  The Joe I'm referring to is Joe Edwardsen.  The pizza I'm referring to is the pizza at Joe Squared on West North Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland.

Joe Squared has only been serving up the heavenly thin crust pies since 2005 but Joe Edwardsen, now 29, first made pizza while in high school in Rochester, New York.   That pizza shop, like most, made round pies.  While at Goucher College, where he earned his degree in Philosophy, Joe cooked in an Italian restaurant.  Joe had planned to be a Philosophy professor.  He later planned to open a French restaurant.  Things changed and he ended making the right decision in opening Joe Squared but don't just take my word for it. 

The Baltimore Sun said that Joe “…raises pizza and subs to the level of high art.”  He has also received praise from: AOL City Guide; Baltimore Eats; Baltimore Magazine; City Paper; Spirit World; Urbanite; and many others.  OK, so the Spirit World review didn't exactly rave about Joe's pizza, That article concentrated on some of Joe's beverages.  Joe Squared offers over 45 types of rum.  The reason - Joe likes rum.

This Joe is a big fan of the KISS [Keep It Simple Stupid] principle and apparently Joe is too.  The stretched (never tossed) crust is made from a 200 year old sourdough starter.  The sauce is simply uncooked crushed San Marzano tomatoes with fresh basil which is grown on the roof and is picked daily.  The cheese is Mozzarella di Bufala (Water Buffalo) from Italy. 

The cooking process is also quite simple and is done in Maryland’s only coal-fired pizza oven - a two-and-a-half ton stove with temperatures reaching as high as 2200°F.

On the day of our photoshoot we were joined by my friend Vincent De Paul, the film and television actor, who had just finished filming "The Sinatra Club" and was working on "Make a Wish."  Vincent, a Baltimore native, was in town visiting family.  Like me, he was amazed by Joe's pizza.  During our meal, he joked to Joe [Edwardsen] that though he is a native Baltimorean, who gets back to The Charm City often, it took an outsider [me] to introduce him to the best pizza in Baltimore.  On that day. our beverage of choice was Baltimore tap water which, living in Los Angeles, Vincent misses dearly.  Baltimore water is good but on my next visit to Joe Squared, I'm having rum.

As eclectic and hip as the place might be, Joe Squared is a family business with Joe's mother and his brothers being quite involved.  Joe Edwardsen and Joe Squared are not only special because of the pizza, rum, and family.  As a proud pioneer in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District, Joe Squared also has live music daily.  Various genres.  No cover.  Every three weeks there is a different art exhibit featured on the burgundy colored walls.

Like the Huey Lewis and the News song, it's hip to be square.  If you're looking to be square, head on down to 133 West North Avenue and have a 10, 12, 14, or 16 inch square pizza.

NEXT WEEK - "J is for Joey"

Monday, November 23, 2009

006 - Curious Joel

About 50 miles north of New York City, in Orange County and within the the town of Monroe sits the village of Kiryas Joel.   Kiryas Joel [Town of Joel] is named for the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the founding rebbe of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish dynasty.  Upon his death in 1979, Teitelbaum was the first person to be buried in Kiryas Joel.

About 20 miles south of Kiryas Joel, in Suffern, New York, in Rockland County lives 30 year old Joel Lebovitz, who, like Kiryas Joel, is also named after Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum.  In fact, Joel is believed to be the first of many named after Teitelbaum.  He was born before the rebbe's death but, as is the Jewish tradition, he received his name at his bris.

Joel Lebovitz may be a badchen, which is Aramaic for jokester or comedian, but he is quite serious when it comes to his namesake: "I am considered very special, since Rabbi Joel Teitlebaum was respected in the entire Orthodox Jewish community."  To put things into perspective about that respect, over 100,000 Jews are said to have attended Teitelbaum's funeral.

Joel is the son of the Grand Rebbe of Nikolsburg - Rabbi Yosef Yechiel Mechel Lebovits.  He was named after a Rebbe and Joel is the descendant of a long line of Rebbes dating back to the eighteenth century.  Joel is even a graduate of Yeshiva Talmudical College but he, himself is not a rabbi.  That is, unless you count Pester Rebbe also known as the Grand Rabbi of Pest.  

Pester Rebbe is the character Joel performs as.  This Joe thought that the pest was a reference to an annoying person but Joel corrected me: "Pest is after the City of Budapest that used to be split in half as Buda and Pest, my grandparents lived there, and one of the things that I am known for in comedy is to mimic the Hungarian language."

As for how often Joel performs as Pester Rebbe, he told me "Every few days, since my shows are mainly at Sheva Brochos which is 7 days following a Jewish weddings, there's a celebration every night, and to celebrate you need entertainment, so I'm one of the types of entertainment people would call."  I asked Joel about what other forms of entertainment one might expect during that week and he said "Musicians mainly, and badchen is an old way of entertainment...some include a video presentation or magicians."

Joel's favorite thing about comedy is seeing people leaving his show in a better mood that they entered.  He gets his fair share of good moods, many of them from his local, non paying gigs.  "I go a lot to people in hospitals or people who are homebound and need some cheering up, but I don't charge anything for that, I only charge for lavish parties that I am hired to entertain [such as] sheva brachot, bar mitzvahs, concerts and comedy shows."

Joel Lebovitz loves his audiences.  He likes them small and he likes them large.  He even likes them very large.  One of his first performances, outside of home and school, was at a friends wedding in front of about 450 people.  He has since performed to audiences with as many as  12,000.  In addition to the USA, he has performed internationally in Europe, Israel, and South America with recent performances in London, Brazil, Prague, Greece, to name a few.  He has also performed with the Ringling Brother and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

With Thanksgiving upon us, I asked Joel what he was thankful for this year and was not surprised to hear that he is grateful for "a great wife and family, friends and fans...not only on Thanksgiving Day but everyday is thanksgiving to God and loved ones."  [Speaking of Thanksgiving, this Joe wishes everyone a very happy holiday.]  Joel has been married for almost eight years and is the father of three children - two girls and a boy.  On the day of our photoshoot, Joel was running late because he was registering his son, who, like his sisters before him, was delivered by midwife.  However, unlike his sisters before him, Joel's son was the first of his children to be born with a planned home birth.  

"He is laughing at daddy's jokes and making us very proud" Joel told me of how his son is.  Like his son and like his namesake, Joel Lebovitz is also making many people proud.

NEXT WEEK - "Joe Pizza"

Monday, November 16, 2009

005 - Off Off Broadway Joe

Off Off Broadway is where this week's Joe has performed.  Off Off Broadway [on the Upper West Side of Manhattan] is where this week's Joe lives.  This week's Joe, is actually a Joey - Joey Stocks.  

Joseph C. Stocks III, who has always been known as Joey, was born in Russellville, Arkansas on February 1, 1966.  He is a legal secretary by day and a "mostly out-of-work actor by night."   He is a member of Actors' Equity Association and has performed many roles including his favorite of Tom in "The Glass Menagerie" and his least favorite of Cole in "Keely and Du" in which he said "I was so horribly miscast, but thought I could make it work."

As for where theater began for Joey - "I studied Art and Dance at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, then transferred to my birthplace where I finished my B.A. in Theatre and was a guinea pig for their newly formed Master of Liberal Arts degree, which is as vague as it sounds."

Theater is his passion and living in New York City, Joey gets to see a lot of it.  He recommended two plays - " On Broadway, "The Royal Family" and Off-Broadway - "The Understudy"   Both shows are about theater people, so I guess I can relate."  Joey can certainly relate to theater - not only as an actor or audience member but also as a creator.

Joey is Executive Producer of Summoners Ensemble Theatre.  Rhonda Dodd is the Artistic Director.  Kevin Jones, Joey's partner of almost 14 years, and Dan Renkin serve as Artistic Associates.   The Board of Directors is comprised of Michael Mafrici, Anne Kennedy McGuire and Benjamin Nixon.  In 2010, Summoners Ensemble Theatre will produce their second series of staged readings and will also continue to develop three original plays.

When I asked Joey when we could expect to see the plays, he said "Hopefully we'll have the money to produce one of them in Spring/Summer 2010."  One of the plays is entitled "He Switched."  It is a parody based on the television show "Bewitched."   Having been born in Salem, Massachusetts and a fan of the television show, this Joe is looking forward to that production.  Summoners' other two plays are their new adaptation of "A Christmas Carol",
and "Getting It" which Joey described as "a gender-bending comedy where "getting it" is only half the journey."

While theater may be one of Joey's greatest passions, he is also inspired and influenced by Manhattan, the Museum of Modern Art [MoMA] and by family members including; his niece and nephew, his parents, his sister and his partner Kevin.  Joey spoke at length about one particular influence and his involvement in her organization.      

"My influences change from time to time, but I'm continually inspired by Patty Lindeman, Founder and Executive Director of Hunger-Free Arkansas   Patty Lindeman is a college friend of mine.  Not having come from a wealthy family, I worked several jobs to put myself through most of my undergraduate school.  Often, I found myself barely able to pay my tuition, school supplies, rent, utilities and gas to get to and from classes, leaving myself little or nothing with which to buy food.  Although I didn't ask for help, Patty and her husband at the time, were aware of my financial struggle.  Instead of offering me money or groceries, they would frequently invite me over for dinner, which filled my stomach while leaving my dignity intact.  In her home I was a guest, not a beggar."

He continues "A few years later, in response to the growing homeless population in Little Rock and the surrounding areas, Patty took her generosity and compassion by forming Hunger-Free Arkansas, now celebrating its 10th Anniversary.  HFA is an advocacy and service organization which provides counseling, clothing and hot meals for those in need.  Through HFA, Patty manages to do this incredible and vital work while still respecting the dignity of those she serves.  Now that she has many "guests" at her table, it is my privilege to help her serve any way I can."

Joey Stocks has a great heart and a great body.  At 43, he is better shape than most people half his age.  Though it was chilly on the day of our photoshoot, Joey was a good sport and posed shirtless for some of the photos.  I asked him about his workout routine and he told me: "I work out 6 times per week for about 45 to 50 minutes in the morning before work.  I'm not really a morning person, but I find that my attitude is better if I start my day by doing something good for myself...I use a combination of free weights and machines.  I also work with my own weight with chin-ups, push-ups and dips."

These days, Joey gets back to Arkansas only "once or twice a year - not often enough" as he puts it.  He lives a very full life Off Off Broadway where is "father" to two cats.
Summoners Ensemble Theatre is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.  Contributions to Summoners Ensemble Theatre are tax-deductable to the fullest extent allowable by law.

NEXT WEEK - "Curious Joel"

Monday, November 9, 2009

004 - ProJo

Providence, Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams and was named in honor of "God's merciful Providence."  The Ocean State's capital has since had many nicknames including The Divine City and The Beehive of Industry.  Earlier this year, Mayor David Cicilline and the Department of Art, Culture, and Tourism launched a new campaign to rebrand The Renaissance City.  Providence, once again, has a new nickname - The Creative Capital. 

Providence has had a long history of creative thinking starting with Roger Williams himself, through to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft to the more recent WaterFire, a unique series of recurring community building events.  Providence is also the home of Jose Ariel Diaz, a creative 20 year old with a passion for dance, music and fashion.  Like Providence, Jose, also has a few nicknames including Pito and Rebel.
"I love Providence" Jose told me as we met up on Thayer Street, in the heart of College Hill, the neighborhood in which Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design [RISD] co-exist.  This Joe also loves Providence.  It is where I learned photography while studying at Rhode Island School of Photography [RISP] and where I also lived for several years.

On the day of our photoshoot, we stumbled upon a recently completed mural, outside of the CVS Pharmacy on Thayer and Cushing Streets.  CVS commissioned four [past and present] RISD students [Christina Graham, Alison Kizu-Blair, Michael Kolendowiz and Annabeth Marks] to create the vibrantly colored wall art.  With Jose and I, both having strong feelings for Providence, it was only fitting that we take some photographs in front of it.  Besides, part of the wall matched Jose's socks - socks that didn't match each other.  One sock was yellow.  The other was green.

Laughing, he says "I NEVER match my socks . Unless I really have to . I like to be different - literally."  Different, he is.  Not many people have a G clef tattooed on their ear nor can they pull off a hairstyle such as Jose's.  The haircut, a modified mohawk, gives this Providence native of Puerto Rican heritage an extra few inches of height.  His grooming and one of a kind sense of style also makes him stand out in a crowd.  Jose works as a waiter and is required to conform by wearing a uniform but is still able to be distinct.

Another area in which Jose is unique is in his community service.  He is a mentor but it's not in academics.  For at least six hours per week, Jose, who himself, was recently in high school, blends right in with the 12 to 18 year old teens interested in dancing and modeling.  At just 5'4" tall and weighing 130 pounds, he's far from the norm in male modeling which is generally about 6 feet and able to fit a size 40 Regular jacket.

"I'm here to pursue modeling. I also love dancing. I've done a couple of photoshoots."  he says  "I'm short but that's not stopping me not one bit. I'm representing for all of us short models. I love to try new things and I also love me a challenge."

As Providence continues its quest to rebrand itself with a new nickname, its native son continues in his one man campaign to rebrand the standard for male models.  Keep your eyes open for Providence.  Keep your eyes open for Jose.  Or Pito.  Or Rebel.

NEXT WEEK - "Off Off Broadway Joe"

Monday, November 2, 2009

003 - Vote for Joe

Tomorrow is Election Day and this Joe is voting for Xi Huang, or rather, Joe Wong, his American name.  While Joe Wong might not officially be on any ballot for political office, he should be on a ballot for funniest comedian.

Joe has already received endorsements from some of television's most influential hosts and has appeared on "The Late Show with David Letterman."  He is also a favorite of Ellen DeGeneres' and has been on "Ellen's Bigger Longer Wider Show" on TBS and most recently on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."  His set is linked below.

"Hi everybody.  I'm Irish." - might be a typical opening line for Joe but in reality, this 29 year old funny man was born in Baishan City, Jilin Province, China.    He has since become a naturalized American citizen and incorporates his life experiences into his act. An act devoid of the profanity, too often used by comedians, for shock value.  Joe's answer to the citizenship test question "Who was Benjamin Franklin?" is "Um...he's the reason our convenience store gets robbed."

Joe, has been performing for seven-and-a-half years but professionally for just four.  I asked him how he got started.  "By reading Woody Allen and other masters, taking an adult education standup comedy class, and going to open mic nights and telling jokes."   His first gig was at Hannah’s Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts, which has since ceased to exist.  In addition to Woody Allen, his style is very influenced by Mitch Hedberg, Steven Wright, but mostly by the late George Carlin.

In addition to his comedy, Joe Wong holds a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and works as a research investigator at a pharmaceutical company.  Joe is married and has one son.  He is currently working on "work related humor and jokes."  He has shows this weekend - Friday, November 6th, and Saturday, November 7th at the Nick’s Comedy Stop in Boston.

Joe also has quite an online following on You Tube and can be seen in many videos including "Joe Wong for President," which served as the inspiration for some of the photos.  There are many variations of this video, including one translated into Chinese.  In one scene of "Joe Wong for President," Joe proves that he is American by eating pizza and chips but does so with chopsticks.  On the day of our photoshoot, Joe and I sat down for a Chinese meal.  We had the option of chopsticks or fork.  Joe chose the fork.  This Joe voted for the chopsticks.

Joe Wong on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"