My SCENE Articles, February - September 2006

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SCENE Magazine, September 2006

Fanfare for the (not so) Common Man
A profile of Michael Edwards

By Cliff Roles

The artistic fate of Sarasota’s prestigious Asolo Theatre now lies in the hands of Michael Edwards. After tactfully making himself scarce for the last four months directing a Broadway musical while we paid tribute here to the retiring Howard Millman, the lick of paint and new carpets in the lobby, the new boardroom look and not least the theatre’s new name are just a few indications that the scepter has been passed and the new Producing Director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre has officially taken up residence.

SARASOTA is the theatre capital of Florida. And no theatre in Sarasota is more beautiful, respected and frequented than the Asolo. Re-awoken from the (near) dead in 1995 by the return of Howard Millman and his immediate re-introduction of the rotating repertory-theatre system after an absence of six years, the Asolo is now entrusting its choice of repertoire to Australian-born Michael Edwards, a consummate professional who is fully aware - and extremely proud - of his future responsibilities.
Asolo PR Manager Julia Guzman leads me to the Asolo boardroom, where she’s arranged a quick working lunch for us. Michael welcomes me warmly with a strong handshake and as always a big, boyish smile on his face. He’s tall, slim and looks younger than his 56 years; his silver-gray hair serves to make him look even more distinguished. When he talks, he uses his hands for emphasis and his eyes sparkle with enthusiasm.
How have your new colleagues reacted to your appointment?
“Change is hard. But because the transition was carried out so thoughtfully, so considerately - instead of an abrupt Bang! - people have had a chance to adjust to me and be aware of what was happening over the past year. The redecorating in the lobby, the logo change, the new name (“Asolo Repertory Theatre”) could easily unsettle people, but that year has given people a chance to get used to the situation.”
Michael Donald Edwards was born the eldest son of a large Catholic working-class family (he has four sisters and two brothers). His father worked for the telecommunications industry in Australia and was also a Captain in the Army.
“I was born in a town about a hundred miles north-west of Melbourne called Ballarat in the western district of Victoria. I went to a Catholic boys school; I was going to become a priest, and grew up in a very strict but happy environment. I’m still very close with my family.
Going to Monash University really changed everything for me. I went there in 1968, right at the height of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. I took a degree in English literature and was very passionate about ideas and learning. I never really experienced the theatre as a young person. The closest we came to it at my school, St. Patrick’s College, was the debating society. Football, cricket and debating ruled, so I got a very rigorous classic education - the theatre was not a value, even at university. You could only do theatre there as an extra-curricular activity. That happened for me in my third year, when I was persuaded by a roommate to go along to see his girlfriend perform in a rock version of “Lysistrata”. By the end of the day I had joined the chorus, and suddenly we all had to take our clothes off at the end of the show. So my first experience of the theatre involvedperforming in a rock classic and being naked. I’ve never really looked back!”
Coming to America ...
“It was an incredible experience. It was 1979 and I’d been living in London for 18 months. As an Australian in England back then you had a feeling of prejudice against you. They heard your accent and automatically assumed you were stupid, and that you thought of nothing else but football, drinking and girls. It appeared so gray and miserable to me. And I felt second-class. So when I was offered a place at UCLA with a full scholarship, I jumped at the chance to leave. I arrived in America with a backpack and 3,000 dollars, not knowing a soul. UCLA took me in and the world opened. I had only intended to stay 3 years to get my degree, but then everything changed - America opened up so many doors, as it does for everybody. You get to reinvent yourself as a person and as an artist in so many ways.”
After earning his MFA at UCLA, Michael served for 10 years as the Professor of Theatre Arts at the University of California, Santa Cruz, six of which he spent as Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz. In 2003 he became Associate Artistic Director of Syracuse Stage in Syracuse, New York. He then guest-directed several seasons at the Met in New York, where he staged a number of revivals of “Aida”, “The Barber of Seville” and “Porgy and Bess”. For Victoria State Opera he directed “Othello”, “Aida” and a very successful production called “The Puccini Spectacular”, featuring Jose Cura in all the tenor roles and a cast of over 200. Before leaving Syracuse for Sarasota, he directed productions of “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, “Copenhagen” and “Inherit the Wind”.
A Citizen of Sarasota
“I’ve become really interested in the ways in which the Asolo is a citizen of Sarasota and how it participates with the city. I’m really interested in the organization and all of us who work at the theatre being actively engaged citizens. I find I want to know what’s going on in the cultural district; I want to be part of it and help figure it out. I’ve become passionate about Sarasota looking beautiful. As an artist, how can I not care about everything around me? The Asolo should not just be an isolated entity in an isolated arts complex, but we should be participating actively as an institution and as individuals in where the city is going and how it wants to see itself.”
After observing now for a year, how do you see the state of theatre in Sarasota?
“I think Sarasota has to have a pretty high percentage of theatre-going public compared to its total population. Do we reach as widely as we can in terms of going north or south etc.? No. I’m looking at ways for the Asolo to be taking performances on tour, as well as people coming here. I’ve just finished traveling round Southern Florida, and got a feel for some theatres of approximately the same size where it would make sense for us to have some kind of connection. It turns out we used to have to have a connection in the pre-Megs Booker days, before she did away with touring. That may be a way of fitting into the landscape of Florida, and not just Sarasota. We have around 150,000 tickets to sell each year. Last season they sold 98,000, which is pretty good, but we certainly have more product to sell. Can we sell more? Yes. And that’s what I hope to do.”
Is it seasonal?
“Everything’s up for grabs right now. “Menopause, the Musical” changed a lot. It went right into September, when there’s traditionally no audience in Sarasota. And it played to full houses. So that brought everything into question. We don’t start our season until November, because supposedly people don’t come until January or until the holidays. That may be valid in the case of the solid core of subscribers, but maybe there’s a whole new single-ticket audience out there that we don’t know about. So as an arts organization we must grow; we have to reach more people and we need to look at all the different ways of doing that.”
Supported by experts with an extensive knowledge of Sarasota’s theatre landscape and years of experience in their respective fields - among others Managing Director Linda DiGabriele, Conservatory Director Greg Leaming, new Board President Margaret Wise and new Guild Co-Presidents Virginia and Richard Baldau - Edwards and his colleagues are now making sure that the Asolo’s 48th season at the Ringling Center will not escape anyone’s notice.
“I’ve got a crack team working with me both behind and on the stage, especially during the first half of the season; while Greg’s directing “Men of Tortuga”, I’m going to be directing “Amadeus”, then Danny Scheie will direct the professional premiere of “The Plexiglas Slipper” for Christmas. In my first season I need people I can trust, where I know what they do and that I can rely on them. They’re also very open to my being able to participate in whatever way they need me. So in the first three shows, while I’m directing one of them, I’ve got people at the helm of the other two that I trust. That was a very important part of my thinking.”
Before heading back to New York in the spring of 2007 to briefly oversee the Broadway opening of the Dickens-based, 12-million dollar musical “A Tale Of Two Cities”, Edwards will also be directing actor David Howard as baseball legend Yogi Berra in “Nobody Don’t Like Yogi”, a one-person play that will run all January in the Historic Asolo Theater at the Ringling. He is retaining the Asolo’s rotating repertory set-up, in which a resident company of actors performs several different shows in the same week.
Do you feel comfortable with the rotating repertory system?
“Yes, I feel very attracted to the notion of repertory. When I came to the Asolo and saw the level of seasoned professionals that are here, they are exactly the kind of actors you can never get to leave New York. I’ve directed in those regions a lot and I know how difficult it is to get people
of a certain age and experience to leave their homes and go and work somewhere else for 6 to 8 weeks. That is one of the major advantages of having it, plus the relationship of the seasoned professionals with those really talented third-year students who have just gone through this intensive training experience; that’s a unique and wonderfully vibrant home and fusion of talents. I’ve also become very aware of the local acting pools and talent. They call Sarasota the theatre and cultural capital of Florida, and I’m beginning to see how true that is.”
Edwards and Mitchell Mills, his partner of eight years, recently moved into their new condominium in downtown Sarasota. They haven’t spent much time there yet, though, as they’ve been traveling back and forth to Los Angeles for the last couple of years looking after Mitchell’s mother. She suffered from advanced Parkinson’s Disease and passed away in July, so the weeks after that were taken up with tying up her affairs on the West Coast, then bringing her home to New York for the funeral and spending time with Mitch’s family there. But when they do get a free moment, they like to visit Sarasota’s theatres and restaurants.
“We’ve seen productions by the Florida Studio Theatre, Banyan and the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, and we’ve had fun visiting the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. We haven’t got a favorite restaurant yet, but we do like Michael’s on East. And the Bird Key Yacht Club is also great - I love to sail!”
Something tells me it’ll be a while before we see Michael Edwards sailing off into the sunset.
If you’d like to welcome Michael Edwards to Sarasota, his Email is And you can find the full line-up for the Asolo Rep and Conservatory 2006/07 seasons at

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, August 2006

The (Pitch) Pipes of Peace...
or Lida Rose by any other name - The Ditchfields

By Cliff Roles
Spending time with the Ditchfields always calms me. Whether it’s having them on my radio show, being
Master of Ceremonies at their sold-out barbershop concerts, or simply enjoying an afternoon with them
at their home. Namely, they enjoy giving pleasure to their fellow man, but are also perfectly content just to
spend time with each other. Allow me to introduce you to an exemplary family.

They’re a big family, the Ditchfields. And on any day of the week you can expect them all to gather at one of their various domiciles in Sarasota for homeschooling, to practice their award-winning repertoire for an upcoming concert,to discuss future projects and competitions for The Chorus of the Keys, the Ditchfield Family Singers or its offshoot My Three Sons, or simply to be with each other. Because that’s what they like doing best. And when it’s time to sing, the pitch pipe magically appears out of Stephen’s pocket to make sure everyone’s in tune. You see, the Ditchfields don’t need instruments; they have long since translated the harmony they experience in the family into the harmonies they sing on the stage, performing their songs in superb a cappella style.
Stephen Ditchfield is the head of the family and leader of the group. His father Stanley was a World War II pilot who emigrated from Manchester, England, to Canada with his wife Joan in 1947. A highly accomplished bass/baritone soloist, Stephen’s experience includes activities as a motivational trainer, broadcaster and professional golfer.
He met Bernice, the love of his life and wife of 35 years, when she and a friend visited the Ditchfield home and she heard him singing the Carpenters’ Close To You at the piano. They were engaged twelve days later.
Stephen: “It was a supernatural thing. We had both grown up in the same town - Burlington, Ontario - but had never met. Then my family moved to Florida in 1967, but through a miraculous series of events Dad ended up moving us back to the area for just ten months in 1971. And that’s when I met Bernice. When we got engaged, we’d never actually been on a date together!”
Bernice was the youngest of four sisters:
“Two of my sisters were missionaries in Africa, and that’s what I wanted to be as well. But when I met Stephen and saw his love for God and his commitment, I knew that it was right for us to be together.”
While Bernice remained in Canada to complete her degree at Bishop’s University in Quebec, Stephen moved to Virginia where his father became the Executive Vice President of The Christian Broadcasting Network. They were married six months later and Bernice joined Stephen in Virginia, where they soon started a family. Their daughter Christin was the first-born, followed by Nathanael eighteen months later. Stephanie came along in April 1980. Tragedy struck their lives two years later when they lost their fourth child, Laureign Nicole, to SIDS - Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - at the age of three-and-a-half months. It was their faith that got them through this.
Stephen: “I don’t know how people who don’t have faith in God can get through something like that. As we sat there dealing with this overwhelming situation, God gave me a word to carry us through. Basically we could either say God, why did you take her from us, or we could say thank-you that we had her for three-and-a-half months. We chose the latter.”
At the end of 1986 Bernice became unexpectedly but joyfully pregnant while Stephen was working in California. Michael was born there in September 1987. When he was six weeks old the Ditchfields made their final move to Sarasota, where youngest son David Nicholas cameinto the world in January 1989. Singing had always played a hugely important role in the family’s lives, whether in their beginnings as “The Ditchfields”, a trio made up of Stephen, Bernice and Stephen’s younger sister Daryl Ann, or as “The Ditchfield Family Singers”, which the family first created to carol in Victorian costume at “The Living Nativity” every Christmas at The Tabernacle Church on DeSoto Road.
As soon as Michael and David were old enough to harmonize with the rest of them, the Ditchfield Family Singers hit the ground running and began gaining huge popularity as they performed year-round at Barbershop Harmony Shows.
Christin had left the group in 1994 to become host of “Take It To Heart”, an internationally syndicated radio program, and to pursue a career in writing. Her soprano/alto voice was ably replaced in the line-up that same Christmas by Regina, Nathanael’s wife-to-be and now the mother of the next Ditchfield generation Andrew (10), Christopher (7) and Joshua (4).
Audiences delight in these future American idols every year during the family’s Christmas shows at the Sarasota Opera House (by the way, if you’d like tickets for this year’s concert, phone (941) 923-2013).
A turning point for the family both musically and privately took place on August 1, 2001, when Stephen became Music Director of the 100-man strong barbershop Chorus of the Keys. The Chorus has flourished under his direction, coming from last place to win the 2004 Sunshine District Championship, and can also claim to be one of the few “Sarasota-grown” acts able to sell out the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall twice in one day, as they proved yet again this past February.
Stephen, Nathanael, Michael and David enjoy great popularity as “My Three Sons”. They won the 2003 Florida State/Sunshine District Quartet Championships and ranked among the top 50 quartets in the world at the 2004 International Barbershop Harmony SocietyCompetition. Their success at the Barbershop Harmony Society’s International Quartet Competition in Indianapolis this July has made them the top-ranked quartet in the state of Florida (and 34th in the world!), and has secured them a place in Florida barbershop history books.
And what do the Ditchfield offspring do nowadays when they’re not singing? Nathanael is a licensed real-estate broker with a weakness for the occasional round of golf. Stephanie, an avid and accomplished ballroom dancer, owns her own business as a certified nail technician. Michael, whose solo renditions meanwhile bring him standing ovations at concerts, is a music major at Manatee Community College in Bradenton. And David Nicholas, the family’s curly redhead, is now also a music major at MCC and an aspiring pianist.
Stephen: “As a family, we feel that God has given us certain talents and abilities. He has made it possible for us to do what we do. What would have happened, for example, if three of our kids had been born tone-deaf? The fact that the whole family can all sing is a part of His plan.We try to reach out and touch as many lives as we can to encourage, inspire and bless people with our music and with the love that we have for each other. As a family we feel that we have something to contribute to other families and to the community at large when they see the fact that a family can work; in other words, we are a family first and a singing group second. If we have personality conflicts, as every family does, we spend a lot of time around the table and work it out, no matter how long it takes.”
If you’d like to know more visit: or email:

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, June 2006

Suicide Isn’t Painless...
By Cliff Roles least, not if you’re the loved ones left behind. How would you feel if you were 4 days away from giving birth to your first child, and you were told your husband had just killed himself? Well, unless you’ve experienced this for yourself, you really can’t know what went through Carla Patton-Stumpf’s mind that fateful day in 1994 when she received the news. This is her story.

D.I. SGT. RICH STUMPF was 24 years old when he died by suicide on Oct. 31, 1994 while stationed in the United States Marine Corps at Parris Island, South Carolina. Rich had served in the Gulf War for 9 months and loved the Marines more than anything. But behind all of this, he had been struggling with alcoholism, mood disorders, and an overall very addictive lifestyle. In the end, he saw no hope for himself. He didn’t understand
why he kept doing so many things that were sabotaging his own happiness. He saw no way to “fix all the damage” that he had done.
Rich and Carla both grew up in Sarasota, graduated from Riverview High School and were together since they were 15. He joined the Marine Corps at the age of 18, and Carla and Rich were married two years later. By the time Carla became pregnant with their first child in 1994, the first warning signs of Rich’s self-destruction had become apparent.
“By that time it was becoming clearer to me that there were larger issues; I noticed things such as his drinking becoming out of control and his reckless behavior. He was very good at covering it up towards his military superiors, putting on the show that he needed to. Towards the end of his life it started becoming alarmingly clear that warning signs were present, but you never think that this kind of thing can happen to you - it always happens to someone else.”
A voice in Carla’s head was telling her that her worst fear might be realized. Together with his family, she tried to reach out to him, but they weren’t sure what kind of action to take. Back then they didn’t know about interventions, suicide prevention organizations or how drastically they needed to act.
“In my naivety I hoped that someone in his chain of command would intervene, but it would have been a breach of trust for me to approach his superiors - as a devoted military spouse that is something you struggle with. Rich was paranoid he would lose his military career if he ever admitted to his behavior and that he needed psychiatric help. So I was torn. Today, when people ask me if they should “tell on” the family member or friend who is suicidal, I remind them that if I had it do over again, I would rather have that person hate me forever and be alive.”
Rich’s performance as a drill instructor steadily declined.
“His life was spiraling out of control in many different areas - poor, declining work performance, excessive drinking, as well as extravagant spending, promiscuous and adulterous behavior, etc. On the weekend of his death he was in a car accident, received a D.U.I. and was incarcerated. Our last conversation was when he called me from the base brig. He was erratic, unable to calm down. I was full-term pregnant at my parents’ home in Arcadia at the time. I couldn’t travel or do anything physically, and when he called me from the military jail his last words to me were “Don’t worry - I’m going to take care of everything - make sure you tell my baby girl or boy that I loved ‘em”, and in a trembling, distraught voice, he hung up. Those words will ring in my ears forever.”
Rich was released on his own recognizance and was instructed to report for work on Monday morning at the indoor training pool, where they train the recruits in tactics for water survival school. That morning he went to the armory and checked out his M-16 service rifle with the excuse that he was he was going to the range and needed to clean it. He walked into the pool, fully dressed in uniform, and climbed up on to the high-dive. Co-workers didn’t know what he was doing; at first they all thought it was another one his crazy stunts, but soon realized something was wrong and began yelling at him to get down, etc. He was reported to have a “zombie-like” look on his face and was non-responsive. Rich threw his hat into the water, sat down on the diving board with his legs hanging over the edge, pondered momentarily, and put the rifle to his chin. He fell into the pool, where his fellow Drill Instructors attempted an immediate rescue. Rich died in the arms of the Marines he considered his “brothers”.
“Everyone wants to know, “Why”? Not only “why” did he do it, but even more so, why did he do it in the way that he did? I tell them that it is impossible to answer with one simple reason. Suicide is not a result of one single incident, but rather, suicide is much more complicated and results from a fatal combination of symptoms, some we were aware of, some we were not.”
Four days later, in the middle of the night before Rich’s funeral, Carla went into labor.
“I was in denial that the labor pain was real, because I was devastated of the thought of missing my own husband’s funeral. Hours before the funeral, and instead of attending with everyone else, I was admitted into the hospital. I had our son Asher (“The One Who Brings Happiness”) with my mother by my side.”
Carla looked for bereavement support groups, but there were none in Sarasota at that time for survivors of suicide loss, and being a very young woman burdened by a death by suicide, it was very hard to find anyone she could relate to.
“I read, I wrote to people, I reached out to anybody who would listen. Unfortunately, with this type of loss there is a great stigma that society places on death by suicide, so I made a promise that I would not let anybody shame either myself or the memory of my husband. I would share my experiences of pain, struggle, hope, and survival in the hope of remaining an advocate for suicide prevention and education, so that Rich’s death was not in vain.”
Today, Carla is still very much involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Outreach programs. Last year she bought the Foundation’s Out of the Darkness community walk to Sarasota to raise awareness for suicide prevention.
And how is Carla doing today?
“I’m doing really well. I subsequently remarried another Marine, and between the two of us we have five children. I work in the community here in the GAP School and Thinking Center, an intervention school that caters to the special education population, but I continue to devote my spare time to my passion: suicide prevention and education. When a person survives and overcomes a traumatic and life-altering event or loss, potentially you can be changed forever as I was. I did not choose this cause, it chose me. The message that resonates so clear in my mind is that the suicide and my grief will NOT have been in vain. I found meaning from my suffering, leaving me with an altruistic need to offer back something to humanity, based on my own experiences.”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( offers basic information to interested and affected parties. If you’d like to contact Carla, her Email address is If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-SUICIDE or 911.

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, May 2006

Don’t you just love our Saturday morning Farmer’s Market? I do – I’m always out there bright and early,
my dog Sam leading the way, and as we weave through the crowds there’s always a cheerful “Hi, how are you?” or “Hey Cliff, I’d like you to meet my friend...” And that’s how I met Jill Williams, who, within 30 seconds of meeting me, said “You should meet my husband Bob. He’s dove to the Titanic twice”. No sooner said than done...

Submerse me, my sweet submersible you...

By Cliff Roles

Bob Williams has been married to Jill for forty-four years and they have two married daughters and two grandchildren. They reside most of the year in Longboat Key and spend the rest in Bay Harbor, Michigan. He’s a master plumber by trade, and used to run Genova Products Inc., a $100 million plumbing and heating supply corporation founded by his father in 1962 that specialized in PVC and plastics for drain waste and vent systems. Very successfully apparently, because nowadays he can concentrate fully on the two loves of his life: his wife Jill and deep-sea exploration.
When he was eight, his English grandmother gave him a book entitled The Sinking of the Titanic and Other Great Sea Disasters. It left a lasting impression, as he has since spent his life studying the world’s most famous wreck and traveling the world on various explorations. Numerous walls and cabinets in his homes proudly boast a superb collection of dive memorabilia. He has visited the Titanic twice, the German battleship Bismarck (400 miles south of Ireland, off the coast of France), as well as the Hydrothermal Vents, the major tectonic plates located on the mid-Atlantic rift 280 miles off the Azores archipelago. This summer he’ll be making his third trip to the Titanic.
In January 2001 Jill surprised Bob on his 60th birthday with the best present he could ever have wished for: a $36,000 trip to the wreck of the Titanic in July of that same year.
“I was speechless. I never thought I’d ever do it. Jill had been watching a Good Morning America Special on it the previous year, just after the Russians had made their two MIR submersibles – mini-submarines – available for three people to make the dive. The Keldysh, the vessel that holds the two submersibles, is one of the largest in the world. When the government in Russia broke down, there was no money to keep it running. So they learned about capitalism very fast.”
A company called Zegrahm Deep Sea Voyages - - in Seattle, Washington, has been running these trips to the Titanic since 1998. To date, fewer people have seen the wreck than the number of astronauts that have gone into space.
The RMS Titanic struck an iceberg 360 miles southeast of St John’s, Newfoundland on April 14, 1912 and sank 12,500 feet to the bottom of the Atlantic. 2,228 people were aboard. 1,523 of them died, 705 survived.
What sparked his interest?
“I had always been fascinated with the Titanic. Beyond the tragic loss of life, of course, you had the entire spectrum of the human population “on a little island”, from the dirt poor to the super rich. Now, think of a situation where you’re told that there’s no way out – you’re going to die in an hour and a half, regardless of your level of intelligence or how much money you’ve got in your pocket. You’re not going to hear the “thump thump” of helicopter blades coming to the rescue, or the sirens of a coastguard boat. You knew your life was going to be over.”
Bob and Jill set sail from St John’s on the Keldysh on July 16, 2001. They arrived at the site two and a half days later. The hair stood up on the back of his neck, he says, when he was informed that weather conditions were similar to what they were on that fateful night. They then spent a couple of days circling the site, preparing for the dive, listening to lectures from scientists and familiarizing themselves with the ship and the submersible.
“MIR I is a titanium steel ball, 6 feet in diameter, surrounded by an aluminum housing so it looks a little streamlined on the outside; you get in through a single hatch on the top, 20” in diameter. It has three truncated, 7”-thick Plexiglas portholes and there’s room for 3 people plus equipment.”
And if it developed a leak at the bottom of the ocean?
“It would be like laser surgery – the water would cut you in half because of the pressure – more than 3 1⁄2 tons per square inch.”
In the meantime Jill had also plucked up courage to go down with her husband, so together with the Russian pilot, the three began their 11-hour dive on July 20, 2001.
“It took us two-and-a-half-hours to descend, during which you’re treated to the most unusual light-show imaginable. It’s like sitting in a field on an August night watching fireflies, because all the creatures that reside at the various depths are luminescent, all flashing different colors. There’s a lot of life on the bottom – gigantic star-fish, rat-tails (something like a cross between a shark and an eel), crabs – all so fascinated by us they would come right up to the portholes to look in.”
The MIR landed on the bottom, outside of where the wreckage is and moved slowly along the seabed. “That’s a heart-thumping experience; you come upon a hill, which is really the mud that was displaced when the ship’s bow hit bottom and burrowed in about 20 meters. With the help of the MIR’s thrusters, we suddenly came right in on the base of the bow (think Leo & Kate shouting “I’m king of the world”). Then you realize how massive it is. It’s in two major pieces down there: the bow section alone is about 400 feet long. That part of the ship is in pristine condition, everything’s pretty identifiable. We spent 5 hours exploring the two sections of the ship and the debris field, photographing as we went; we were even able to drop down where the grand staircase was, because that’s a big cavity now in the top deck. You can still see the pillars, chandeliers in the rooms, shoes lying there that had been previously occupied by a now dissolved body – it was very eerie. We went down close to three levels. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Eleven months later Bob and Jill flew to Spain and then on to the Azores archipelago located in the southern mid Atlantic Ocean, where they once again boarded the Keldysh and dove aboard the MIR submersibles.
“Near the Azores we ventured down approximately 8,000 feet below the ocean‘s surface to visit an eco-system that few have had an opportunity to see. We visited the “Rainbow Vents”, a truly amazing and hostile environment that occurs along a mid ocean rift where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet. Super-hot water spews from fissures in the sea bottom, reaching temperatures as high as 700°F. A lot of scientists now believe that life on Earth actually began in this type of environment!”
Bob has meanwhile made a second dive to the Titanic - “to gather more information on my developing theory about the true causes of the Titanic disaster” - and also joined the 2005 Deep Ocean Expedition to the German battleship Bismarck, completing his deepest dive to 15,300 feet.
“The Titanic met its fate only four days after heading out on its first voyage, but the Bismarck bettered that record by managing to last just over eight days. However, staying afloat twice as long didn’t mean that fewer people lost their lives... when the Bismarck made its plunge to the bottom on the morning of May 27, 1941, some 2,100 souls also followed this ship to their deaths.”
Bob was accepted as a full member of The Explorer’s Club - - on December 6, 2003, and has meanwhile become a Trustee at Mote Marine Laboratories, where he regularly shares his experiences with its new archaeological department and the “Monday at Mote” series. And this summer Bob and Jill will be returning to the Titanic for a third time.
Why the Titanic again?
“Because I’m still trying to put the pieces together. I don’t know if I’ll ever have all the answers, but I’ll spend the rest of my life searching. There’s just no fantasy for me that equals it.” If you’d like to learn more about Bob’s expeditions, visit his website

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, April 2006

Hal Hedley

I wish I was unemployed...

By Cliff Roles

There are 57,000 children in Sarasota County. Every six hours one of them is found to have been victimized. So on average, the Sarasota Child Protection Center — — deals with four reports each day of abuse and neglect involving children. Dr. Hal Hedley has been Executive Director there for the last ten years. He can’t wait to be made redundant.

Hal Hedley was born on October 18, 1947 in Richmond, Virginia, and grew up as the second eldest of four children. His mother was an educator and his father an administrator for the state health department.

When you were growing up, was child-abuse closeted and not as public as it is today?
"I often speak in the community to people of my age, who raise their hands and say, "It didn’t happen in my generation."
My answer to that is, "If we don’t go snookfishing tonight, we won’t catch any snook." In other words, if you’re not looking for something that is often secretive, you won’t find it. So there’s no doubt in my mind, when I look back, that I had plenty of classmates who were being victimized. It seems to me that the guidance counselors back then were asking the wrong questions. Nowadays they’re asking the right ones."

Is it important in your job to be well-balanced?
"Absolutely. As we work with our staff, we want them to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty; so when a family comes in front of us, even if it’s the worst moment in their life, we want to try to find the hope and opportunity rather than the bad. When we take a child into the Child Protection Team, Dr. Katherine Keeley and her assistants perform a medical to determine whether the child has been harmed,typically by a family member, sometimes by a non-family member. There may even be some denial. In most cases we’ve got to say that there’s hope for this family and for that child, rather than take the attitude that the sky is falling and another child is lost to society. I’ve seen too many children and their families move from that huge chasm of being a victim to that summit of being a survivor. It just takes such a long time."

At school and college he excelled at sports and enjoyed football, weightlifting, shot-put and track & field. He recalls that marrying his wife Luan during his senior year in college had an enormous effect on his career decision.
"She had already graduated and was teaching elementary school. She’d come home and talk enthusiastically about the kids, and I got bitten by the bug. I dropped all my plans and the offer I had to be a juvenile probation officer and became a teacher. I started teaching 4th grade, then middle and high school, got a Masters from the University of Richmond and finally received my doctorate in Educational Administration from the College of William and Mary. I eventually went on to become a principal."
Hal and Luan have 4 children: Maggie (22, graduating this year from Webber International University), Tim (24, “He’s my special Olympian: he has Down Syndrome and doesn’t realize it”); Heather, 30, a nurse at Sarasota Memorial who herself has two children and Hal III, who is 33 and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he is Executive Director of the Ronald McDonald House. Luan still teaches kindergarten at Philippi Shores Elementary.
Hal and his family moved to Sarasota in 1986, and after three years as Director of Sarasota’s Guardian ad Litem office he took over the position of CPC Executive Director in 1989.

Why did you take on the job?
"After I moved to Florida, one of the things that struck me was that as a school principal, I had missed a lot of signs that the kids coming before me were being abused. Signs like self-destructive behavior, or being in trouble all the time and not caring about it. Many of those children took that path because they really didn’t have any hope that life was going to get better.
They’d been maltreated and harmed, and no-one seemed to care because no-one knew. So when the opportunity came, I realized it was a chance to go back and reach some of those kids that I’d missed. Of course, they are new kids now, but it’s the same concept. We’re going to see close to 30,000 children in child-abuse prevention workshops this year in the schools.
And they’re going to learn as much as we can teach them in a short period of time about how to say no, how to get away and tell someone. Those kinds of programs didn’t exist 20 years ago."

How about the CPC’s collaboration with other area organizations?
"Our main partners in protecting children are the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office and the Sarasota Police Department, as well as the Venice and North Port Police Departments. We also work very closely with the State Attorney, the Department of Children and Families, and of course agencies like the Safe Kids Coalition out of the YMCA and all the children’s mental health agencies. At the Child Protection Center we concentrate on prevention, intervention and treatment. So if a child had a mental health problem that was not specific to our field, we would refer it to a body like Coastal Behavioral Healthcare. And we’d get SPARCC involved, for example, where the molesters are poly-offenders who offend against both their child and spouse. We all maintain good relationships with each other, but we have to work at it. There’s always a temptation on everyone’s part, including the Child Protection Center, to do some turf-guarding, and we can’t do that. We need to check our egos at the door."

The CPC does not take actual custody of the children, although Katherine Keeley and her team do carry out the medical assessment in one of their three examining rooms in Sarasota, South Sarasota or DeSoto County. Doug Staley and his Child Protection Team case coordinators also conduct forensic interviews if the child is at or above the age of four, the goal being to collect evidence and protect the child from further harm.
“Our number one job is to develop a safety plan. We want to look that child in the eye and say "This is not going to happen to you again."
The most likely person to harm a child is someone the child knows and trusts. So while we certainly engage in saying, “Watch out for the stranger who comes into your neighborhood,” the truth is that the most likely person is someone who is known to the family.”

Are the numbers on the increase?
"I’d say they’re not on the decrease, which is a huge disappointment if you’re in my field. One of the areas where we have had some success is teaching children about personal safety, about saying no, getting away and telling someone; while it doesn’t always prevent the initial incident, it gives the child the power and the means to report it and get it stopped quickly if it should ever happen again. That’s encouraging. One message we’d like to get out to the child molesters is that they’re out of luck; we’ve now created an army of children who are informed, know how to get away and tell someone."

The CPC’s annual fundraiser, the Sarasota Comedy Festival, has just ended, and further awareness was also made by other events, such as the 11th annual “Giving Hunger the Blues” which took place on April 9 in Southside Village, with all proceeds going to the CPC and All Faiths Food Bank. The CPC and its dedicated Board of Directors are in the process of celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Child Protection Center; one of its goals, 25 years down the road, is that its 50th anniversary will celebrate closing down child-abuse investigation and intervention programs to invest all effort in family enrichment, parenting classes and similar initiatives rather than still catching child molesters. A recent vote by the County Commission to give the CPC a plot of land on 301 worth 2.9 million dollars for a Child Advocacy Center is one step more towards helping it achieve this goal.

And for Hal Hedley, one step more towards his dream of being unemployed.

The Child Protection Center, Inc., is located at: 1750 17th Street, Bldg L., Sarasota FL 34234, tel. 941 365-1277.
The Abuse Hot Line is 1-800-96-ABUSE

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, March 2006

Die Mutti ist immer dabei – Mom’s always there – is how a German newspaper described Ruth Landers’ role in life: to be there for her family. As if there was ever a question.

All For One... The Landers

By Cliff Roles

“I’m running late,” grins Ruth as she opens the door clutching a ringing telephone in one hand and a bunch of papers in the other, “NATPE (The National Association of Television Program Executives) is in full swing and I have several films there. I’m flying out to Vegas tomorrow. Grab a beer, play with the dog and I’ll be right with you.”

This is business as usual for the head of the Landers family, and how I’ve come to know Ruth Landers, mother and manager to Audrey and Judy and grandmother to Kristy and Lindsey, Daniel and Adam. Not a minute goes by that she’s not planning a family project. When you get to know one Landers, the others aren’t far behind. Ruth brought Landersproductionz to Sarasota from Beverly Hills in 1998, bringing Hollywood to Florida’s sun coast, along with their creative talent, stunning beauty and exemplary innovation.

Ruth was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but when she was nine months old her parents were forced to flee. Her mother was a nurse and her stepfather, a Jewish surgeon, feared for their lives. They fled 6,000 miles away to Shanghai, China. There she spent the first ten years of her life learning to survive in the “culture shock of sheer poverty”.
“In retrospect, it was a wonderful experience, speaking Chinese and Japanese, and appreciating life. I feel blessed with all that God has given me. Within six months after arriving in San Francisco, we all became American citizens.”

Ruth’s parents moved to Pennsylvania, where Ruth was discovered by a modeling agency. She won her first beauty contest when she was 14 years old. “Even though it helped to look the way I did, I never considered it an important part of my life, because it’s something God gave me. I had no control over it. All the beauty contests I won — Miss Polaroid, Miss Kodak, Miss Philadelphia, Miss Photogenic — were merely a means to an end.”

At the age of 18, she married her junior high-school sweetheart. He went to St. Joseph’s Teaching College and she won a scholarship to go to Temple University. She continued modeling to support her family, even through her pregnancies. After Audrey and Judy were born, Ruth and her husband parted ways amicably — “He was a wonderful man. We got married too young.” Ruth and daughters moved to New York. Ruth traded her glamorous life for a more secure job in sales. Soon she and her partner opened the first of several successful ventures, still operating today.
“It was Audrey’s desire to follow in the steps that I started but couldn’t finish.” Lunch hours and after work, as well as weekends, were spent developing Audrey’s career. At age 13 her career was launched with a hit country album on Epic. Later Audrey would also study music composition at Juilliard School and major in psychology at Columbia University.
Judy had become a gymnastic ace. At the age of 15, however, minutes before she was to compete in the New York State Tumbling Championships, she broke her finger. Ruth said, “Either quit now and give up on your dream, or bite the bullet and win!” Judy went on to win the championship.
The three were inseparable, with manager Ruth always at the helm steering the girls’ careers. Judy became Wanda the Bod in the made-for-TV movie, Whatever Happened To The Graduating Class. while Audrey became a daytime soap star, with recurring roles in “Secret Storm,” “Somerset,” and “One Life to Live.” “By the time she was 16, Audrey’s picture was on the cover of every daytime magazine in the country.”
Although the girls were working in LA, Ruth still maintained her companies in the Northeast. “Every Friday after work I’d get on a plane and commute to California. I’d spend weekends cooking and freezing meals for the girls.” Judy starred as Angie in “Vegas” and as Stacks in “B.J. and the Bear.” The life of these three musketeers changed dramatically after Audrey won the coveted role of Afton Cooper in “Dallas”.
“It was planned for one episode, but she stayed for seven years!”

The Landers became the most popular girls in Hollywood. Audrey headlined with Bob Hope, Billy Crystal, Flip Wilson, and Rich Little. Ruth and her girls jetted around the world. Sir Richard Attenborough called Ruth. “Darling — I need Audrey to play Val in my movie of A Chorus Line. I’ve auditioned hundreds of girls.”

The walls in Ruth’s house proudly sport some of Audrey’s 20 Gold and 10 Platinum records, and hundreds of framed magazine covers. Ruth produced dozens of TV pilots, infomercials, music videos and films, including Ghost Writer (a worldwide hit), California Casanova, Club Fed and King Without a Crown.
In 1998, The Landers Clan became disenchanted with LA and searched for a gentler lifestyle for the children. The family decided on Sarasota when they performed their award-winning “Huggabug Club” at the Van Wezel (the show ran on PBS for five years; Ruth produced, and the Landers wrote all 47 episodes and all 250 songs). After swiftly purchasing three houses here and selling their respective domiciles in Beverly Hills and Bel Air, Audrey and husband Don Berkowitz together with sons Daniel and Adam, Judy & husband Tom Niedenfuer (former Dodgers pitcher for ten years) with daughters Lindsey and Kristy, and Ruth moved to Sarasota. Ruth’s day-to-day life deals exclusively with her family business. They are about to launch a skin-care line, tentatively called “Legacy by Landers.”
“We’re also planning to build a spa destination here in Sarasota — like this part of the world has ever seen.We’ve experienced the majestic spas from Baden-Baden to Florence, Italy, and we’re going to create that here.”

Ruth’s granddaughters Lindsey and Kristy have just recorded their first country-pop CD. They‘ll perform locally, before touring worldwide. Ruth’s grandson, Daniel, has already charted a worldwide hit as a solo artist and with mom Audrey. Audrey’s son, Adam, follows in his grandmother’s business footsteps, taking courses in production and investing in the stock market. Ruth is in the midst of negotiating a deal with Lions Gate for Circus Island, the feature film that the family produced and shot last year in Sarasota, and the reason the house telephone has hardly stopped ringing.

Is there anything Ruth still wants to do?
“I want to do it all. I have — thank you God — so much energy and vision, and enough drive to make it happen. If you can see it before your eyes, you can do it. I have a zillion experiences, like when we were on tour in South Africa, Scandinavia or the Netherlands. I think I’ll tackle a book—but it’ll have to be a family mini-series.”

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 p.m. on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 Email: Website:


SCENE Magazine, February 2006

Interviewer, Ringmaster and Mentor - Cliff Roles

I never really figured myself for a radio talk-show host. I’d never done it before; hadn’t thought about it, to be honest. Talk radio, who listens to that anyway? At least, that’s what the Brit in me thought when I first started behind the microphone at 1476 Main Street. That was 15 months ago. I’ve been doing some adding up lately. Since I started inviting people into the studio I’ve interviewed over 400 guests; undoubtedly some of the most interesting people visiting or living here on the Sun Coast, I’d say.

And people do indeed listen. If you’re not one of them, and you don’t know me from Hugh Grant, allow me to introduce myself: I’m of British descent, about to turn 53 (Feb. 17), with a daily radio show and probably currently acting some role in some play on some stage in Sarasota. Incidentally, I’m trading in the stage for the sawdust of the Big Top in February 2006, when I become Ringmaster of Circus Sarasota - - for the 2006 season. Come and see us – I’m the one in the top hat, red tails and riding boots talking to children of all ages and introducing the wonderful acts, which include the beautiful Dolly Jacobs, one of the world’s best aerialists, as well as the Flying Wallendas performing their famous seven-person pyramid. When I was a kid, I dreamed of running away from my hometown of Croydon in England to travel to faraway London (30 miles away!) and join the circus. Now I just have to go up to Tuttle Avenue and I don’t even have to pack a lunch-box — what a great start to the year!

I came to Sarasota in 2002 after having lived the last 28 years in Germany as a promoter in the music business and subsequently a German-English translator. I wanted a quiet life; that is, until I discovered how much fun it was to run around on a stage singing or shouting, or sitting behind a mike telling corny jokes and talking to interesting people! Now, of course, I don’t know when to say no... Sarasota is just too interesting to not do anything! We’d planned to get on my Harley and ride Route 66, but I’ve had to postpone that for a while in favour of the occasional ride with my wife Maria up Longboat Key to Anna Maria Island!

Anyway, back to this column. I reckon that if I can capture listeners’ attention by talking to remarkable guests every week, I can also interest readers by writing about them. I thoroughly enjoyed the weeks leading up to Christmas, for instance. I mean, how often do you get to talk to Public Defender Elliot Metcalfe, Alice Rau, Chair of the Ringling Museum, US Senator Barbara Boxer and Days of Our Lives’ Bill & Susan Hayes (remember Doug & Julie Williams?) all in the space of ten days? Very informative and highly entertaining.

But also heartbreaking. When SPARCC Executive Director Stephanie Woods came on the show, she told me of a woman who spent a lot of time at SPARCC (Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center), Sarasota, (hotline (941) 365-1976, website:, whose husband tied her up with fishing line, locked her in a closet overnight, then raped her continuously and threw her out naked into the street when she was eight months’ pregnant. In another episode a short time later he stabbed her 2 or 3 times with the bread knife before she even realized she was bleeding. He continued stabbing, cutting off one of her fingers in the process and eventually penetrating every vital organ in her body; he then killed her roommate, who tried to intervene. The husband’s in jail, but the woman lives in perpetual fear of the day he’s released. I just sat there listening, absolutely speechless. For the first time in my life I was ashamed of my gender. Stephanie’s advice: women should observe their partners closely for various lethal levels of domestic violence, most especially a history of pathological obsession or jealousy. If they find it, they should definitely seek help.

On a lighter note, a couple of days earlier I chatted with Stephania Feltz, the Executive Director of Girls Inc. of Sarasota County (tel. 366-6646, website:, and was amazed to learn about all the after-school programs offered to young girls aged from 6 to 15, “inspiring them to be strong, smart and bold,” as their brochure states. Classes are Monday to Friday from 2 thru 6 pm, and there are countless projects, field trips and courses for them to take part in. There’s a café, a gym, and their favorite Friday pastime is to play Bingo! If you’ve got a couple of hours free during the week and you’ve got a “clean slate,” they can always use serious volunteers. I’m going over there to read to the girls now and again, for example.

A few weeks ago I decided to live out the American dream even more by treating Maria and myself to a big-screen TV and all the home-theatre schnick-schnack that goes with it. But as I’m finding out, it’s one thing to give these stores all your money, but another thing completely to get someone out to your house to install it. As I write this, I’m waiting for the technical installers from one of our big Sarasota consumer electronics stores. In fact, I’ve been waiting for the last 5 hours. My calls get forwarded to various departments in their Call Centers, which are probably situated in Shanghai or Buffalo or Bombay (how do they do that?), and I’ve been “accidentally disconnected” when my enquiries become too uncomfortable or unanswerable. Well, it serves me right for not knowing how to install “HD-TV” and “in-wall speakers” myself. Looks like I’ll be watching CSI the old-fashioned way tonight.
Yep, gotta love that American dream... well, maybe tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted.

Listen to Cliff Roles on Talk of the Sun Coast every weekday live from 2 to 3 pm on 1220 AM WIBQ.
Contact Cliff Roles: Tel.: (941) 685-9017 - Email: Website:


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