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Sat12152018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

At 69, Gina Bikales is the embodiment of the word “indefatigable”: She’s seemingly incapable of being tired out.

Gina leads Script2Stage2Screen (S2S2S), the theater company which presents staged readings of new works at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. (Disclosure: I have acted with S2S2S before.)

“We (the Coachella Valley) have theater going on year-round now, (as opposed) to when I came to the desert in 2000,” Bikales says. “(We have) community theaters presenting ‘chestnuts’ (older hit plays that always attract an audience); professional companies doing edgier works; three great full-time companies; and S2S2S taking it a step further, doing only new, unpublished works. We want scripts that speak to current issues.”

Bikales came to her role with S2S2S—running the program as well as casting, directing and occasionally taking a role herself—with a lifetime of connection to the arts. Born in Topeka, Kan., and raised in Kansas City, Gina graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in theater education and language arts.

“I came from an artsy family,” she says. “My mom was a sculptor, and my dad, although a psychiatrist by profession, always designed and made jewelry. They provided an artistic education for all of us (an older brother, and a younger brother and sister). We started piano at 5, and by second-grade, we could choose a second instrument to learn.

“I’ve done theater since I was young. At 12, I signed up to go to the Midwest Music and Art Camp. Once there, I hurt my foot, and there was no way I could dance, so my dad talked to them and got me into the theater group. I was the youngest one, but they took me under their wings, and I fell in love with it.

“When I got to college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, because I loved science, but I hated math. When I realized how much math was required, I didn’t want to go forward. I now realize part of my feelings about math were associated with it not being a ‘feminine’ thing to be good at. Anyway, my college adviser literally stood in front of his office door and said, ‘You can’t leave until you declare a major,’ so I focused on theater education. After college, I left Kansas City for North Carolina to teach at a prep school.”

Bikales subsequently married and moved to Santa Clara in the Bay Area, and “put my husband through law school.” She later divorced and returned to Kansas City to raise her three sons, all of whom are now professional musicians.

“I worked as a teacher, but the arts were always an important part of my life,” she says. “At 16, my first summer job was teaching at the only performing-arts camp at that time in Kansas City, Camellot Academy. Just after college, they asked me to take over running it, and until about 2005, I went back to Kansas City and ran Camellot every summer.”

Bikales left Kansas City after marrying “a desert guy” and has been in the Coachella Valley since 2000, currently residing in Palm Desert.

“Much to my surprise, I fell in love with the desert and decided to stay after that marriage ended,” she says. “I was basically a retired lady, but one day, I went to a local meeting of the Coachella Valley Alumnae Panhellenic Association. I was seated with Jeanette Lyons and Lynn Talbot, who were doing a show at the Joslyn Center. I got cast, and from then on, I’ve been involved in theater here.

“Acting came easily for me, and I loved it. The first time I did it, I was hooked. I put acting on hold when my kids were young, but began doing community theater once they were old enough to be left at night.

“Once I left Kansas City and came to the desert, I still returned to the Camellot program, but I was ready to work with adults. Ron Celona had been running the theater at Joslyn Senior Center, and when he left, they asked me to take his place. I said, ‘Absolutely!’ Meanwhile, my divorce attorney was saying, ‘You need to get a job.’ His partner was development director with the Visiting Nurse Association, and he hired me as development manager to support the hospice program. You can’t get a better reason to be willing to ask people for money.”

Bikales’ experience as a teacher, actor and manager has influenced her ability to direct.

“When you’re acting, your primary focus is on character, and how that character relates to others on the stage,” she says. “When you direct, you have to pick up lots of other threads and concerns in a script: lighting, costuming and the ability to tie it all together with a bow so it works to communicate what the playwright intended. A show needs to look seamless and effortless to the audience. It’s both a creative and management kind of position.”

S2S2S began as a project to feature the work of gay Coachella Valley playwrights. Bikales began working with the group in its first season. After the two founders retired, she was asked to take over the program.

“We have so much talent here, from retired actors to accountants who’ve always wanted to act,” she says. “We have people who’ve never been onstage before, and some who’ve won awards for performing. Being in an S2S2S production only requires three weeks of evening rehearsals, and it’s fun.”

S2S2S, now in its 10th year, may be the most economical theater experience in the valley, at only $10 a ticket. Usually the playwright is in the audience to gauge reactions, as well as take questions and comments after the production. The number of shows presented each season depends on how many plays are submitted and considered worthy of a first outing. Play-submission information is at the website, www.script2stage2screen.com.

“It’s been my mission for the last few years to push women, especially women of color, into directing. For some reason, it’s difficult to find women who want to direct,” Bikales says.

“Because the plays we put on are new and unpublished, we can work with the playwright, something you can’t do with a published work. We get submissions from all over the country, and there are a lot of local writers who want to get an audience’s reactions to a work in progress. I’m in it from the submission phase to the final curtain call. I’ll do S2S2S as long as it’s a joy to do, and it is!”

S2S2S, under Bikales’ direction, has garnered 17 Desert Theatre League awards. She served as president of the DTL for eight years, and has been on the boards of other local organizations. Despite recent health issues, she directs individual plays, carefully casts local talent, scrounges costumes and props, and occasionally returns to the stage.

Gina Bikales is, indeed, indefatigable.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs Tuesday-Friday from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Back when the news was being dominated by the federal “zero-tolerance policy” which was resulting in family separations at the border, I attended a presentation by the writers’ group at Coachella Valley Repertory—always a great way to experience local talent.

The final writer performing her original work was Barbara Fast, the new pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert in Rancho Mirage, doing a piece she called I Am Miriam. She told the story of Moses’ journey down the Nile in a reed basket, into the arms of the Egyptian princess who adopted him into the royal kingdom, from the perspective of Miriam, Moses’ sister.

In Fast’s version, Miriam followed her brother’s journey and then suggested to the princess that she could get a Hebrew woman to breast-feed the baby—enabling their real mother to suckle her own infant. When Fast said her line about how no child should ever be separated from its mother, the audience gasped—a collective intake of breath at the ironic current relevance of that age-old story. I still get goosebumps when I recall the moment.

Barbara Fast, 67, has been in the desert for only a year and a half. She was born and raised in New York City, the only child of working parents.

“I was what used to be called a ‘latch-key kid,’” says Fast. “My mom and dad were big influences on me. I would get to go to work with my dad sometimes, at the Veterans Administration, and I learned to have respect for those who serve in any capacity in our government.”

In high school, Fast specialized in math and science. She then attended Sarah Lawrence College, majoring in philosophy, and went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

“My senior high school year was 1968, when so much was going on, particularly the King and Kennedy killings,” she says. “I had already become involved in local political campaigns, and then once I was in college, there were the Kent State killings, bus riders in the South, and marches. Fairness and justice were always really important to me.”

As a lawyer, Fast went into trial practice. “It was what I seemed to be good at, and I loved the thinking,” she says. “I became a prosecutor in New York state—not a defense lawyer, because I was all about justice and discretion on behalf of the people. In the late 1970s, New York was coming out of bankruptcy; graffiti was everywhere. I felt I was participating in upholding standards. Every day, there were ethical issues.”

The work required an enormous commitment. Fast and her husband decided to move to Connecticut to start a family, and she began to teach law.

How did Fast go from law to religion?

“My husband is Jewish, and I’m sort of Catholic (from a mixed marriage),” she says. “We decided to raise our children in the Unitarian Universalist congregation in Westport. I was doing lots of volunteer work on environmental issues and was asked to give personal witness at the church for Earth Day. I spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing to do five minutes, but I realized then that although I had always been standing in the back, I wanted to be in front of the church. I wanted to engage the hearts of the people.

“We live in this world, and it’s about how to live with integrity and joy. We don’t know for sure what happens afterward, so we can only imagine and wonder. What I do now is about how we live our lives. If we can ask the right questions, we can get to the right answers.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘If it knocks more than once, it could be God knocking.’ I’ve never forgotten that. I applied to go part-time to Yale and felt at home in divinity school, studying the Old Testament and ethics.“

Fast met her husband, Jonathan, in college, but it wasn’t until they met again at an alumni event that they got together. They have now been married 35 years.

“I have three wonderful children: Molly, my stepdaughter, and two sons, Ben and Dan. Jon was a novelist, but we both made career shifts at about the same time. He started teaching social policy, and I went into divinity school.”

What brought them to the Coachella Valley?

“About two years ago, we decided to retire, after kicking it around for about a year. I had served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and then back to Connecticut, and I was tired. After the Sandy Hook shootings happened nearby, I was in a state of trauma. It was all just so sad.

“Jon was retiring, and our son Ben was in Los Angeles, so we looked around there. Then we came over the mountain originally thinking it was ridiculous—it was August, and the temperature was about 114! But we fell in love with this area. It’s affordable, and there are so many creative people here. We wanted a place that was near a UU church, and when we attended, we found a great group of people, friendly and smart. We knew the church was in transition; they weren’t ready at that time for a full-time pastor, but I did preach there a few times.”

Shortly after arriving in Rancho Mirage, Fast sought out the CV Rep Writers’ Group, run by Andy Harmon.

“It’s wonderful,” she says. “I had crafted stories as part of sermons, not just about individuals, but about human beings in general and the human condition, trying to make connections with how we are living now. I had presented stories, after gathering evidence and analyzing it, as a lawyer. Then I did it in sermons. Now I wanted to expand my capabilities. Biblical text is very compact, so when I was writing about Miriam, I asked myself, ‘Why did she go into the water? How did she get there, down the Nile? What must it be like to sacrifice your child?’”

Fast says a “calling” is when your greatest love meets the world’s greatest need: “It takes different shapes at different times of your life.”

Lucky for us, Fast’s current time of life is here in the desert. She shares stories with her “audience” every Sunday, making a difference in the community, and bringing goose bumps to her listeners.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

It all started with a crayon crisis.

“I distinctly remember that at age 7, I had a major crisis—deciding which of two distinctly different shades of green Crayola crayons would be best for my ‘latest masterpiece,’” Laura Janes said. “And with that decision, I knew that art and painting were my future.”

Much of the painter’s career has involved art—however, it was not her art. Although she strayed from making her own art, Janes’ creative process remained part of her unconscious, she said, at times driving her career choices.

Upon graduating college, Janes became a high school teacher, where she taught teenagers about art and ways to access their own creative spirits. A few years later, Janes recognized there was a market for artists who could produce high-quality wall and ceiling murals. Capitalizing on her technical prowess as a painter, she founded Iconica, a San Diego company that was commissioned to create murals in residential properties. Working with interior designers and individual clients, Janes and her team created paintings that met a client’s needs for a defined space.

Now a muralist, the painter then evolved into an expert copyist: She was frequently asked to reproduce classic works in a client’s home. Janes chuckles: “I can’t tell you how many times I painted the Sistine Chapel on some dining room or bathroom ceiling.”

Iconica resulted in two major life lessons for Janes: First, it helped her become a savvy businesswoman. Unlike many artists, she knows how to put a fair price on each painting by factoring in a dollar value for her time and creative process, as well as her hard costs.

Second, Iconica reminded her of the importance of attending to intricate details and finishing (e.g., surface textures) with any piece. This can be seen in her “Cambria Leaves III” (upper right) which lets viewers experience the differing textures of overlapping leaf surfaces. Additionally, her use of highly amplified and contrasting colors adds a vibrancy and depth.

However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to Iconica: Its growing reputation among designers, developers and homeowners was resulting in ever-greater sales. However, after about 10 years, the painter found herself disengaging from the business. Something was missing. While the financial rewards proved significant, the intrinsic rewards waned: The commissions required less and less creativity and imagination.

Around the same time, Janes experienced the loss of multiple family members and important friends. Her response? “I need to ‘check out’ and find myself.”

What started as a 12-month retreat to heal and determine what to do next evolved into an 8-year sabbatical: Janes became the artist in residence for the Unitarian Church’s camp in the San Bernardino National Forest in exchange for room and board. It was a place where she could paint and reconnect with her creative persona.

During her last years at the camp, she began painting at least one watercolor a day, she said, and began implementing a strategy to connect with the design community—an industry that values her talents—and make inroads to art galleries.

Upon leaving the camp, the artist first moved to Big Bear. However, when she realized there were more gallery and interior-design opportunities here in the desert, she moved down the mountain. Today, Janes maintains an active studio in Palm Springs. The artist tries not to work on multiple canvasses concurrently; she finds herself more focused and productive when she focuses on one at a time.

With each painting, Janes tempers a recognizable spontaneity with a highly deliberative, almost cerebral, creative process. The painter’s finished canvases balance each color’s hue, saturation and brightness in one of two ways: low-contrast paintings where all colors are similar and muted; and paintings in which subtlety is non-existent: Deep, rich and highly saturated pigments define and delineate each element of the composition.

With “Aloes” (first below), Janes demonstrates how—with an almost-monochromatic palette of similar, soft colors, and hints of contrast—she can transform what would be a boring desert plant into a lush succulent. In contrast, the artist employs potentially clashing, antagonistic colors to produce “Agave Triangles” (second below), a canvas populated distinct and individual plants.

Within the past year, Janes’ works have been included in shows at D Gallery in Lake Arrowhead; Sheryl Leonard Gallery in Prescott; and Archangel Gallery and Desert Art Collection here in the Coachella Valley.

She how has two new goals: Developing a curated show of her work that will travel to different museums around the country; and getting a painting housed in at least one museum’s permanent collection.

For more information, visit www.laurajanes.com.

Published in Visual Arts

If you belong to any local business or social organizations, you’re familiar with the practice of honoring students by giving out scholarships at this time of year. Almost every group raises money to support education for local students.

Some groups identify students to be honored based on a student’s volunteer time with that organization. Others accept applications from all students and evaluate their achievements to select scholarship recipients. Yet others require students seeking scholarships to show their understanding of or support for the group’s interests.

The Palm Springs chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), for example, required applicants to write an essay detailing their support for women’s rights and their intention to use their continuing education to further that support. When I led that group in the early 1990s, we instituted the Barbara Wade Salm Scholarship, endowed by a former member, which is currently administered through College of the Desert.

Last week, I learned that the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) planned to hold a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rancho Mirage. The featured speaker was attorney Bardis Vakili, from the ACLU of Southern California, who proudly announced the ACLU is opening an office in San Bernardino to provide more coverage in the Inland Empire on issues like voting rights, police conduct and immigration.

The meeting also marked the ACLU’s end-of-season scholarship awards to local students. While the discussion of the ACLU’s efforts to protect voting rights was interesting and informative, what impressed me most was hearing the backgrounds and aspirations of the four students honored.

Robert Rippetoe is graduating from Xavier College Preparatory High School. Xavier, a private, nonprofit school, has tuition and fees which generally are beyond the reach of many local residents. However, their stated goal is that “no qualified student will be denied admission, or once enrolled, be compelled to leave because of verifiable financial need.”

Xavier senior Rippetoe has been involved beyond academics in the literary magazine and the Junior State of America. He is on the JV swimming team and the varsity water polo team. He has also been president of the Robotics Team. What more can one say about a student who claims calculus and statistics are the subjects he enjoys? Rippetoe is enrolled at Colorado School of Mines and wants to pursue engineering, specializing in earth sciences. Perhaps he’ll bring his skills back to save the Salton Sea!

Rebecca Farhi is graduating from Cathedral City High School, part of the Palm Springs Unified School District. She is a California Scholarship Federation Sealbearer, due to her scholastic achievements. Farhi is an athlete in cross country and track; is active in YMCA’s youth and government program; and participates in CCHS’ gay-straight alliance. She is planning to begin college here at home at COD and then hopes to transfer to the University of California at Berkeley for a degree in environmental or political science. Maybe both.

Diana Espinoza is from Indio High School and graduating in the Top 10 of her class of more than 400 students. Academics are not her only claim to fame: Espinoza is also a top athlete, one of the best distance runners in the Coachella Valley. She has helped Indio’s cross-country team win the Desert Valley League finals during the past two track seasons. Espinoza is also a musician (oboe and flute) and active in the Associated Student Body. She participates in the Indio Public Library’s story time, and plans to attend the University of California at Santa Barbara, majoring in library science and education.

Bridgid Elliott-Pope is heading to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles to pursue her passion for art, majoring in visual communications, after she graduates from Palm Desert High School. Born in the Coachella Valley, Elliott-Pope says she was influenced to love reading by her parents—both teachers. She has traveled around the United States and recently spent three weeks in Europe. “I try to be loving in every aspect of my life,” she says, “even in the smallest of endeavors.”

These students demonstrate the qualities we hope all high school graduates will embody: seriousness about their studies, involvement in extracurricular activities and ambition. Although they have very different backgrounds and interests, they all express the hope to make a difference, not only for themselves and their families, but also for their communities.

One of the first scholarships given by Palm Springs NOW was to Fran Ferguson, who returned to school to complete her education after a divorce, while raising two children. Ferguson subsequently spent five years as executive director of Shelter From the Storm, the local shelter for battered women and their children, and then moved on to be the eastern region manager for the Riverside County Office on Aging for 15 years prior to her retirement in Palm Desert. NOW took great pride in Ferguson’s use of her education to make a difference locally.

With all the talk of failures in our educational system, it’s easy to forget how many students are out there plugging away to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. It’s also easy to forget the educators who are helping them, motivating them, preparing them.

We need to continue to support all of the organizations that give out scholarships to local students to help them to attain their dreams. In the words of local ACLU president Brad Oliver, upon congratulating this year’s ACLU scholarship recipients: “We want you to use your education to make a difference, and we want you to come back home.”

Amen.

Published in Know Your Neighbors