Monday, October 29, 2012

Moving Forward

By Philip Catalanotto

Seventeen years ago, New York City Transit took on the monumental task of bringing the subway system into the 21st century by modernizing and computerizing the subways. Transit moved from a system of little lights on a control board that signaled when a train was coming to a computerized system that monitors the trains and the flow of traffic.

The net result has been the creation of a half-billion-dollar Rail Control Center (RCC) where a dedicated group of railroad professionals oversees the conditions of the rail system, makes adjustments as necessary, and informs the public regarding safety and service.

Borne out of this effort were two major systems: Automatic Train Supervision (ATS) and the Pubic Address/Customer Information Screen (PA/CIS).

In order for the ATS system to become a reality, Transit employees had to physically rewire hundreds of miles of tracks and replace dozens of interlocks (switch tracks) with newer ones that are capable of being remotely controlled by a computer. Since safety is always the first concern, the signaling system had to be upgraded and interfaced as well. The signaling system provides traffic lights for the motormen to observe, just as drivers of cars must obey traffic signals.

Since ATS knows where the trains are at all times, the natural extension of this system is to be able to provide information to the riding public so that they know when the trains are arriving at their station. This is where the PA/CIS system comes in.

Timely Public Announcements on Train Service

The PA/CIS in simplest terms consists of  “countdown clocks.”  On these electronic signboards, passengers will see the train line, its destination, and the predicted time to departure. For visually impaired customers, this information is also presented via pre-recorded audio announcements. In addition to this base-line information, people in the RCC can send out audio and visual messages informing customers about service disruptions and alternate travel routes. Currently, this system is installed in the 156 stations for the numbered lines of the subway.

Gerald Catalanotto is one of the key designers and maintainers of the PA/CIS system. During an interview he shared information about how he came to work at NYCT, what he does, and what he sees as the future of this system. 

“ It is a wonderful feeling to be part of a team which is bringing this much-needed technology to the people of the city of New York,” he said.

After 25 years of developing software in the private sector, Gerald joined NYCT as a systems analyst during the design and implementation of this system. Day to day, Gerald keeps an eye on the system from the RCC and is ready to respond to any emergency that might arise. He teaches new users how to interact with the system and is working on extending the system to cover the other 313 stations of the lettered lines of the New York City Subway System. This will take at least five years.

A new exciting thing he is working on, he added,  is bringing the subway arrival information to the web so you will be able to access it with your smart phone. Mr. Catalanotto said that this is the most fun he ever had “playing with trains.”

"A Chorus Line": Stories and Struggles of Everyday People

By Kaitlyn Kozinski

Living the life of a dancer is one of the most difficult paths anyone can choose to take. Between the constant rejection and judgement, it is a wonder why anyone is in this business at all. Life is unpredictable; you can be dancing on a Broadway stage one minute and waiting tables the next. So why do people choose this profession and the grueling life that comes with it? The answer is simple, they love it.

The characters in the musical “A Chorus Line” are the epitome of what it is like to be a working dancer. Throughout the course of the show, the audience witnesses the many low points of being a dancer but they also get a chance to see the high points: the passion and love these characters have for performing.

“A Chorus Line” came to be in a very unique way. The inspiration for this show occurred during workshop share sessions that consisting of broadway dancers coming together and talking about their lives. They discussed their personal history such as life growing up, where their love for dance started, and why they dance. These different sessions were taped, written down, and soon music, lyrics, and a book of the new musical “A Chorus Line” was made.

Stories from Dancers' Lives

This show tells the story of 17 dancers going through the audition process, in hopes of being chosen for a spot in the chorus of a Broadway musical. The beauty of this show is that among these 17 dancers, none of them are alike; every character is different. Book writers James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante were able to bring together people of different backgrounds, family lives, cultures, hometowns, and personalities and show that despite their differences, they all share a common passion, dance.

However, this show is about more than dancing; it is about the life of a dancer, specifically these 17 people the audience gets to know for two hours. The characters delve deep into their personal lives and every audience member gets to connect with them and their struggles.

When the show opened on Broadway in 1975, it was rather controversial. Director Michael Bennett broke the standard Broadway musical mold of flashy costumes and big lavish sets and dared to try something new. There was no set, no curtain, no costume changes; just the dancers, the script, and the music. That is all it needed. James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante’s book is powerful enough to stand on its own. The same can be said for the score by Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban. Having big gaudy sets and costumes would drown out the meaning of the songs and the audience would miss vital information about a character’s life.

This vision of Michael Bennett’s must have been a very smart one because in 1975, the book, score, choreography, and direction all won Tonys, as well as the musical itself. Having a strong book and score is what makes a musical live on and become a classic.

Original Character Returns as Director

That is why today, “A Chorus Line” is still a huge hit. Productions have been performed all over the world and some even in our own back yard. Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey recently featured performances of their own production of “A Chorus Line.” This production is particularly special because it is directed and choreographed by Mitzi Hamilton, a dancer who was part of the original taped workshop sessions and served as inspiration for one of the main characters.

Due to the fact that this production was directed by someone so close to the original concept, there was a great sense of authenticity. While watching it, I felt like I was being transported back to the original 1975 version. Every character was perfectly played and the guidance and expertise of Mitzi showed within this production. Having someone who knows the show inside and out was the perfect choice to direct and keep the legacy of this show going.

“A Chorus Line” will always be part of musical theater history. It is as relevant today as it was 37 years ago and that is because of its universal message: that every person has the chance to go after their dream and do what they love, no matter how long it may take to get there and how hard the process may be. Everyone can relate to this show, not just dancers. “A Chorus Line” tells the story of 17 dancers but shows the struggles of everyday people.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Life of a Fellow Gardener

 By Rebekka Slate

            Robert Pioselli began gardening at the young age of seven during World War II. Mr. Pioselli lived in the Bronx with his mother, father, and sister. The summer of 1942, Mr.Pioselli, as well as his mother and grandmother, began to grow a victory garden. The garden was in support of the war effort. Victory gardens acted as a supply of food during a time of need. The family worked together to grow corn, beans, radishes, carrots, and beets. Every year from 1942 until 1945, the Pioselli family worked together to maintain the victory garden during the summer. As time went by this became a regular garden with all sorts of crops.

Robert Pioselli             (photo/Arlene Pioselli)
             Mr.Pioselli laughs as he recalls a humorous childhood memory: “I was impatient when it came to growing the crops. I used to pull the carrots out of the ground, realize that the roots were too small and would put them back into the ground. My parents could never figure out why the carrots kept wilting.” 
            During the winter months the Pioselli’s were not able to continue growing crops, but they would can the produce from the garden. The family also grew white narcissus bulbs indoors during the colder parts of the year. A friend of the family had previously traveled to Arizona and brought back cacti. This allowed the Pioselli’s family gardening to expand to a wider variety. The process of gardening was able to continue throughout the seasons. Friends and family helped to create a more diverse horticulture.
            Mr.Pioselli’s grandmother, Theresa Barriere, lived in a vacation house in Craigville, New York.  Mr.Pioselli would stay with his grandmother during the summers. The summerhouse was located near a barn as well as a brook. This brook was known as the Cromline and flowed between the house and the barn. The barn was later converted into a summer home for the Pioselli family.
            There was a large piece of flat land located near the home and the brook and this was used to create a garden. The same types of crops from the victory garden were planted in this location, as well as squash, zucchini, and ornamental gourds. Later on, a pump was installed by the brook to help irrigate the garden. The garden was fenced in to keep predators, such as woodchucks, away from the food. The family also had a flowerbed near the house’s screened in porch. Mr.Pioselli officially moved from the Bronx to Craigville in April of 1970.

            Building a Bigger Garden
            “After I got married and was living in a permanent home in Craigville, New York, I began to garden even more," he recalled. "I built a twenty by forty foot raised bed built for all my plants. I grew broccoli, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, and beans. I did have some trouble with woodchucks though; they would eat the leaves off the bean plants and leave the bean pods bare.”
            He also designed and built his own herb garden for the yard. He created various shaped beds that were separated by bricks. Mr.Pioselli recalls,” I used 200 bricks to put the herb bed together and through the process learned how to split them. In the center of the garden I placed a sundial. The plants I grew included medicinal, culinary, and ornamental herbs.”
            In 1974, Mr.Pioselli added a fourteen by sixteen foot greenhouse to his dwelling. There he grew forced bulbs, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, crocus, and various types of anemones. Mr. Pioselli states, “In the utility room of my house I built shelves for florescent light fixtures. Under these lights I started plants for my summer gardens, and also raised an ornamental foliage plant known as coleus, of which I grow about 265 varieties.” Many of these coleuses were given to the head gardener at the Mohonk Mountain House, where they were and are still used for outdoor display.
            Ray Rogers heard of these many coleus from a mutual friend of Mr.Pioselli’s. Ray Rogers than contacted Mr.Pioselli about his plants and wanted to meet with him. Mr. Rogers later on wrote a book based on coleus plants and referred to Mr.Pioselli’s plants multiple times. Photographs, quotes, and gardening suggestions stated by Mr.Pioselli were published in a book titled “Coleus Rainbow Foliage for Containers and Gardens.”

            Flowers Everywhere
            Mr.Pioselli states, “Presently I grow 168 daylilies, also known by the name hemerocallis, which translates to, beautiful for a day, in Greek. I also produce hardy hibiscus, which produce very large flowers spanning twelve inches across. They bloom in shades of red, white, and pink.” Mr.Pioselli laughs as he explains a moment in time when there was an over-abundance of dahlias: “They bloomed in August and our house looked like a funeral home! There were flowers everywhere, even the bathroom.”
Aside from gardening Mr.Pioselli taught accelerated 7th grade science courses at Felix Festa Jr. High in Clarkstown, New York. He worked at Felix Festa from 1968 until the birth of his granddaughter in 1993. He jokes, “I knew it was time to retire when I was teaching my student’s children.” His teaching skills were put to use later on in life when he joined a Master Gardeners group after retirement.
            In 1994 Mr. Pioselli joined the Master Gardeners of Orange County. This group has undergone special training in all areas of gardening. They give horticultural advice to the general public and provide gardening knowledge. The group meets every second Wednesday of each month.
            Mr.Pioselli has had a lot of experience in the gardening world. He influenced his son, Erik Pioselli, to be involved in horticulture. Erik Pioselli went to Delaware Valley College in Pennsylvania, and is now the foreman of the turf and grounds crew at the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. So in a roundabout way the gardening has gone back to where it began, with a member of the Pioselli family caring for plants in the Bronx; while Mr. Robert Pioselli still gardens at his home in Craigville, New York.