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Television

Rebecca Kassay along with the crew from Aureate Visuals and local hired help in front of their 1991 Winnebago. Photo from Kassay

Baltimore, Maryland. So much has been said about the city, criticism that came from way beyond the city itself. But Rebecca Kassay, the co-owner of the Fox and Owl Inn in Port Jefferson, saw something incredible from the people living there. There was a community in the neighborhood of Cherry Hill growing fresh fruit and vegetables, teaching others to farm, giving access to fresh food for people who live several miles from the nearest supermarket. The program, called the Black Yield Institute, was making a difference in their community, and the Port Jeff resident said she knew it needed to be seen by the world.

Rebecca Kassay fist bumps a volunteer at Cherry Hill, Baltimore’s Black Yield Institute. Photo from Kassay

“What they’re doing there is just so incredible as far as combining uplifting the community — integrating culture and fun,” said Kassay. “It was amazing to experience it with my own eyes and be there while this incredible group said, ‘we’re going to create this garden, how can we help people become more aware of health issues and social issues?’”

The inn owner is out on the road, touring in a renovated 1991 Winnebago with her husband, Andrew, and their dog. Filming with a Setauket-based crew, she is trying to spread the news of just how many nonprofits and volunteer works are out there and how much good they do for their respective communities.

“What I really love is connecting people, not just with a cause they love to help, but more importantly, connecting them with the power within themselves,” she said.

The show, titled “Be the Change with Rebecca,” is finishing filming throughout the fall before transitioning to full post-production during the winter. The show expects to come out sometime in spring 2020 on Amazon Prime video.

Kassay, 30, who was born in St. James and later moved to Port Jefferson to open the Fox and Owl Inn with her husband, said the show is inspired by modern serialized documentaries, and takes a form much like a show she loved as a child, “Dirty Jobs,” hosted by Mike Rowe. In much the same way to that Discovery Channel hit, which had the host performing a variety of blue-collar jobs on screen along with the regular workers, Rebecca gets down and dirty with the volunteers, whether it’s driving in nails while building houses or digging in the dirt in a community garden.

“We’re collecting the stories of how they do the work and how they decided to come out,” she said. “Such as, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer at a community garden, here’s what it looks like when you volunteer to restore an oyster reef.”

By the end of their trip, they will have traveled as far east as Baiting Hollow on Long Island, as far south as Washington D.C. and as far west as Detroit, Michigan.

Kassay had the idea for this project nearly two years ago, working off her own background as a youth volunteer project manager at Avalon Park and Preserve. She reached out through local Facebook groups for a crew interested in taking on the project, and the Setauket-based Aureate Visuals production team answered the call.

The three filmmakers, Steve Glassner, Larry Bernardo and Marvin Tejada, have donated their time on a pro bono basis to help make the project possible. All three have worked on projects before, such as Mentally Apart, a feature film set to premier by the end of the year. All three met while in school at Five Towns College.

“It’s been a very, very fun experience, especially all the people we meet and the locals who worked on the crew with us,” said Glassner. “It’s been a real learning experience. We’re meeting people from all walks of life, and it’s amazing and incredible what they’re doing in their own communities.”

The project has taken in this spirit of volunteerism with the crew. The folks at Aureate Visuals, in keeping with the spirit of the show, have volunteered their time to the project. Several of the crew work day jobs, and so they are constantly travelling back and forth from Long Island to where the next shoot is taking place.

Rebecca Kassay, middle, works with a group of volunteers at an oyster farm. Photo from Kassay

Glassner added production has been smooth, and each shoot “felt like we were a family — no egos — it’s one giant collaboration.”

For the most part, the project is self-funded, though they have received significant pledges from the Port Jefferson Rotary Club and have financed $1,654 so far from backers on Indiegogo. Everything else is coming from the owners of the Fox and Owl Inn. Their minimum budget, according to their Indiegogo page, includes $3,000 for travel and lodging, $3,000 for local crew wages, $1,500 for per diem food, $500 for miscellaneous expenses and $800 in Indiegogo related fees.

As the family goes around in the renovated Winnebago, retrofitted with whitewashed cabinets and flooring to make it feel like home, she has become surer this was the right way to get the message across.

“Working with these young people when you connect them with a power within themselves, they just light up,” Kassay said. “The light in their eyes is something the greatest gift you can give someone, connecting them with that.”

The project still has investor space open, and the Indiegogo ends on Sunday, Aug. 18. People can visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/be-the-change-with-rebecca#/to donate.

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Donald Trump and now Aaron Boone? What’s going on?

A well-known businessman, who spent considerable time on TV after he had made his money, was elected president — in case you’ve been living in a hole somewhere for the last year or so — despite not having any experience whatsoever as a politician.

Then, recently, the New York Yankees, who expect a championship every year and aren’t fond of learning curves, went out and hired someone whose playing claim to fame as a Yankee came with one swing 14 years ago. After his playing career ended, Boone entered the broadcast booth where he talked about the game.

Like Trump, Boone was beamed into the leaving rooms of those who paused to watch the program that featured him.

And now, like Trump, Boone must do some quick on-the-job training, becoming a modern-day manager.

Now, I don’t expect Boone to attack other players, managers or umpires on Twitter, the way the president has done when he unloads written salvos against anyone who dares to defy or annoy him.

What I’m wondering, though, is how did these men get their jobs? Since when is experience doing a high profile job no longer necessary? What made Trump and Boone the choice of the Electoral College and the best candidate to make the Yankees greater again, respectively? These Yankees, after all, were surprisingly great this year, falling one game short of the fall classic.

One word may answer that question: television. Somehow we have gone from the comical notion, years ago that “I’m not a doctor, I play one on TV,” to the reality of “I know better because I seem that way on TV.”

Long ago, in 1960, when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were running for president, TV helped sway voters, particularly those who watched an important debate. So, I suppose, it seems like a logical extension to imagine that TV helped fast track the careers of people who spent time sharing their thoughts, tag lines and observations with us through that same medium.

Sports and reality TV have commonalities. A sport is the ultimate live, unscripted event, where people offer off-the-cuff thoughts and analyses on fluid action. Each game and each moment can bring the unexpected — a triple play, an inside-the-park home run or a hidden-ball trick — that requires an instant reaction.

Similarly, albeit in a different way, the reality TV that brought Trump to the top of the political heap gave him a chance to respond to changing situations, offering a cutting analysis of the potential, or lack thereof, for people on his show.

While viewers watch these familiar faces and hear their voices, people can become convinced of the wisdom and abilities of these TV stars who become spokespersons and champions for their own brands.

So, does Trump offer any insight into Boone? The new Yankees manager may find that second-guessing other people is much easier than making decisions himself and working as a part, or a leader, of a team.

Trump has bristled at all the second-guessers. While he’s familiar with the media scrutiny, Boone, too, may find it irritating that so many other New Yorkers are absolutely sure they know better when it comes to in-game decisions that affect the outcome of a Yankees contest.

Perhaps what Boone and Trump teach us is that selling your ideas or yourself on TV has become a replacement for experience. TV experience has become a training ground for those selling their ideas to the huddled masses yearning for a chance to cheer.

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We worry about infections regularly. The last thing people want is a cold right before they go on a summer vacation, before they see a newborn, or before they are about to give a presentation half way around the world to a group of people who might approve their work for the next three years.

And, yet, there are some types of infections, or infectious behavior, that have the opposite effect, making us stronger, purging our system of toxins and giving us the extra energy to work harder, to be more patient with traffic around us and to smile when someone accidentally insults us.

Laughter fits that bill. TV producers certainly understand this when they add laugh tracks to their shows. It allows people to feel as if they are not alone, as they laugh with others they can’t see, even if they are alone in front of their TV.

A late family friend used to become so caught up in funny stories that his quick breaths and high-pitched squeals kept him from speaking. The tale, however, became irrelevant as his performance more than compensated for the lack of a narrative, allowing the rest of the room, particularly those who knew him well, to share his laughter.

I can still hear the laughter from my late aunt, whose giggles would often end with joyous tears.

I recently spent a few days with my brothers to celebrate summer birthdays. We sailed, ate well and hit baseballs on a hot, airless field at Gelinas Junior High School.

I stood in right field, as one brother pitched and the other sent bombs deep into the outfield. My sister-in-law patrolled near second base, scooping up grounders and acting as a relay.

My brother crushed a hard grounder directly at his wife. I immediately shouted, “Field it to the side. Move out of the way.”

My brothers started laughing, slowly at first, at advice that was so contrary to the suggestions I had made when I coached baseball and softball over the last decade.

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “but I don’t want her to get hurt. I’d rather she missed a ball that hit a rock or took a crazy bounce than have it slam into her.”

“Sure, sure,” they teased. “You really don’t know anything about this game, do you?”

Then, it occurred to me to go with it.

“Well,” I shrugged, “I’m actually trying a new technique.”

“Oh yeah?” they asked dubiously.

“Yes, I’m going to tell the kids, ‘Take your eyes off the ball and make sure you have absolutely no idea what to do with the ball when it comes to you.’”

After a few snickers, the four of us shared the kinds of things you’d never tell kids on a baseball field, which ramped up the laughter. Things such as “Yes, it is all your fault” and “No, you’re not that good at this sport.”

The laughter somehow  made the heat of the afternoon more bearable.

Later, my younger brother was in the middle of a salad when he offered something so uproariously funny that his lips could barely contain the food, even as he couldn’t possibly swallow. With great effort, he slowed his laughter and swallowed.

I’m not sure what was so funny, but I know the value of laughter. Yes, of course, one movie after another tells us about the power of love, which drives people to incredible achievements and affirms the value of our connections.

Along the way, however, laughter helps fill our tank, soothes the frustrations of the day and puts a broad infectious smile on our faces that can spread, like a beneficial virus, delivering feelings of goodwill that can cascade through a crowd.

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was watching television late at night, after my wife drifted off to sleep, when I first saw him. I don’t tend to stop channel surfing when a comedian appears.

He looked like a friend of mine, he had a devilish smile and he wasn’t shouting or barking obscenities at me. He was balding and overweight and was the definition of unglamorous. He was talking as if I was in the room with him and he was sharing observations with me. I’m going to paraphrase one of the first jokes I heard.

“Getting old sucks,” he began.

“You know, when you’re in your 20s and you come in and tell the doctor your shoulder is bothering you, you have, like a hundred options. The doctor can take a piece of your hip and put it in your shoulder, he can make you a new shoulder, and he can fix you right up so you’re good as new.”

The audience nodded appreciatively.

“But, then, you get older and you go to the same doctor with the same complaint and you wait. The doctor smiles at you and listens to your symptoms but, then, he doesn’t offer any heroic solutions. He gives you that understanding look.”

“So, what can we do about this?” you say.

“Well, you can take some Advil if you want,” he says with a shrug.

“But what about all those other options?” you ask. “What about moving around body parts, building a new shoulder and fixing me up so I’m better than I was?”

“Those are no longer possible,” he says, as he shakes his head slowly.

Getting old is difficult. I know doctors and lifestyle coaches and entire industries are dedicated to reversing the effects of aging. Lines on your face? Hey, no problem, there’s a cure for that. Putting on weight as you age? Sure, we can fix you right up, send you food, cook food for you, or convince you through hypnosis that you, in fact, don’t need food.

If a character Tom Hanks played in “Cast Away” could survive for several years on an island by himself with just a volleyball for his friend and a few fish and coconuts here and there, you can most certainly get through a day without coffee, doughnuts or any of the other bare necessities that call to you from the addicted parts of your bodies.

When our kids were small, we used to pack the back of the car with everything we might need. Pack ‘N Play? Check. Stroller? Check. Diaper bag? Got it.

As they got older, we didn’t have much to bring and just told them to get in the car and buckle themselves in.

Somewhere along the lines, though, as our kids needed less to go from point A to point B, we wanted more. Our conversations before we leave the house go something like this.

“I can’t find my vitamins,” my wife says. “Did I take one this morning?”

“I don’t know, but do you know where my reading glasses are?” I ask.

“No, but when you start looking for your distance glasses, they’re on your forehead,” she smiles, pointing at me.

“Oh, good, thanks. Have you seen my Invisalign braces?” I ask.

“I’m not sure if the ones in the kitchen are your new ones or your old ones, but there’s a set on the counter,” she offers.

As I scoop up my plastic braces, I see something familiar next to them.

“Hey, honey?” I shout. “Your vitamins are on the kitchen table.”

Getting old may be challenging but it can also be comical. Just ask comedian Louis C.K.

Frank Fritz, left, and Mike Wolfe of ‘American Pickers.’ Photo from The History Channel

The History Channel’s documentary series “American Pickers” has announced that it will film episodes throughout New York this summer.

Show hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz will scour the Empire State for hidden gems and vintage items that may have been given up as junk, according to a recent press release.

The show, which airs at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesdays, explores the fascinating world of antique “picking.” As they hit the back roads from coast to coast, Wolfe and Fritz continue their mission to recycle America by rescuing forgotten relics and giving them a new lease on life, while learning a thing or two about American history along the way.  They typically look for collections that include vintage bicycles, toys, unusual radios, movie memorabilia, advertising, military items, folk art, early firefighting equipment, vintage musical equipment, automotive items and clothing.

Does that sound like the stuff in your garage? If you or someone you know has a large collection, send your name, phone number, location and a description of the collection with photos to americanpickers@cineflix.com or call 1-855-OLD-RUST.

*Please note: The show will not consider visits to retail shops or flea markets.

The author poses with Tyler Christopher, aka Prince Nikolas Cassadine, of ‘General Hospital.’ Photo by Rebecca Budig

By Kerri Glynn

“5 … 4 … 3 …”

Time to move. Walk through the beaded curtain. Pause by the table. Chat with the bearded man. Exit downstage.

But wait! What’s my motivation?  Who is this man? My husband? Lover? Business partner? What was I doing here in Las Vegas — so far from Port Charles?

I was a cast member on “General Hospital.” Okay. I was an extra. But I’d dreamt about this for 39 years and it was finally happening.

Rewind to November 17, 1981. I was one of 30 million people who watched the wedding of “General Hospital’s”  Luke and Laura. I was directing a high school production of “Barefoot in the Park” and my stage manager brought in a small, portable TV — the kind with rabbit ears — and we halted our rehearsal to watch the nuptials. It was the highest rated hour in American soap opera history, and the super couple ended up on the cover of People and Newsweek magazines. They were credited with taking daytime out of the closet so people were no longer ashamed to say “I watch a soap opera.”

I was never ashamed.

I’ve been watching “General Hospital” on and off since 1967. Sometimes I didn’t see it for weeks, sometimes months, even years. But I’d catch up on holidays and summer vacations, and it was pretty easy to do. So many of the same characters remained; so many story lines were recapped script after script. And there was always the Soap Opera Digest magazine to grab and peruse while waiting for my turn at the supermarket counter.

As an English teacher and Vassar graduate, many of my colleagues were shocked to hear me admit my devotion to the show. Why, I wondered? What did Charles Dickens write that couldn’t be classified as soap opera? For that matter, how different is “Downtown Abbey”? The Crawleys just have a bigger house, better clothes and cooler accents.

But I never imagined the day would come when I would join the cast of my favorite show, and it was the star of that early production of “Barefoot in the Park” who made it happen. My former student is now a writer/actor and good friend of the executive producer of “General Hospital.” When he heard I was visiting LA, he asked if I could be an extra on the soap. The answer was yes and my adventure began.

A week before filming, I was contacted by the casting coordinator. Would I be a patient being wheeled down the hospital hall? Or a barfly at the Metrocourt Hotel, swilling a dirty martini? When I was told  I’d play a guest at an upscale Las Vegas hotel, I was intrigued. A Las Vegas hotel? “General Hospital” takes place in Port Charles, New York. Which characters would be visiting Las Vegas? And what would they be doing there?

I received a list of instructions — everything from a confidentiality clause (in other words, I couldn’t share any knowledge of the plot before the episode was aired) to my wardrobe instructions. Since I don’t tweet and still carry a flip phone, the first instruction was easy to follow. The second was a little harder, but it earned me a $10 wardrobe allowance.

I was due at Prospect Studios in Los Angeles at 2 in the afternoon. Most of the cast had arrived at 7 that morning and wouldn’t leave till 7 that night. After getting my ID badge from the guard, I proceeded to the stage manager’s desk to sign in. Then on to the Business Office with my passport to fill out a W-4. I was going to get paid for this? How cool was that!

The studio has seven sound stages and “Grey’s Anatomy” is another of the shows filmed there. The space was huge and held multiple sets. I could walk past the hospital chapel and the Floating Rib to the Quartermaine mansion. I recognized each one.

The other four extras were sitting in the Green Room where we’d wait for our call. Our names were Hotel Staffer and Guests 1-4. The others were professional actors, struggling to book commercials and dreaming of their big breaks. One of them had punched Luke out in an earlier episode, another had sat at Laura’s table at the Nutcracker Ball. Who would I be acting with? Fifty three scenes were being shot that day, and the characters included Scottie, Franco, Nina, Dante — you’ll recognize all these names if you, too, watch the show. (But don’t admit it.)

Then HE walked in — Tyler Christopher, “Prince Nikolas Cassadine,” the character I’d named my favorite cat after. He’s been on the show for 20 years and I’d long had a crush on him. There he was in the flesh … holding his script and getting a cup of coffee with the rest of us. I got up the courage to do it — to introduce myself and tell him about the cat and he laughed. We talked about his long lost love, “Emily” and how I longed to have her dug up and returned to him. It could happen. Characters have been revived even after they had been shot, drowned, frozen and had their major organs given to other characters. He was joined by his co-star, Rebecca Budig, aka “Hayden,” but formerly “Greenlee” from “All My Children.” She was just as nice and welcoming as Tyler. They promised me a picture after the taping.

So, it was sit and wait, and watch the monitors as other scenes were being filmed in the building. There were two directors working that day and multiple cast members. My 10 scenes would be set in the Las Vegas hotel where Nikolas and Hayden were getting married. I couldn’t have been more excited than if I’d won that Mega Powerball.

So many things surprised me that day — the size of the crew, the speed at which each scene was taped, the actors’ voices that seemed to whisper on set but be clear as a bell on video. People may mock soap opera scripts and actors, but everyone was a consummate professional. An average television series has 13 to 22 episodes, some a half hour, some a whole hour. “General Hospital” shoots about 286 one-hour episodes a year.

When my scene was called, the primary actors walked on set with their scripts in hand. The director told them where to stand and when to move. Then two of us extras were brought in. We were given our instructions. On the count of 3, we entered through the curtain. Chatted. Left. I’ll nail it next time, I thought. I’ll create my own back story. I’ll look for the cameras. I’ll …

“Taping scene 39.”

What?

“5, 4, 3 …”

We enter again. We chat. We leave.

“That’s a take.”

Four times I was called to the set. I sat and pretended to check my iPhone. I crossed the lobby with a blond girl. My daughter? Four hours later, we were thanked and asked to leave. The others did. But Rebecca Budig (bless her heart) remembered the promise and found “Nikolas” for my picture. She even took it.

As I left the studio, I looked at all the photos on the walls — pictures of cast members. The original cast — Dr. Hardy and Nurse Jessie Brewer, the Quartermaine family … and Luke and Laura’s wedding portrait. My life had come full circle. The boy I was directing would grow into a man who made my dream come true. Three weeks later I got to see myself on TV — on my favorite show — with my favorite soap star. And two weeks after that, I received a check in the mail for $260. I’d been paid for two days work because my fourth scene appeared the following day.

I’m not ashamed to say it. I LOVE that show. 

Kerri Glynn is a retired English teacher who has lived in Setauket with her husband Tim for many years. Today she is a writer and tutor as well as the director of education for the Frank Melville Memorial Park.

From left, David Conover and Adam Conover pose for a photo on the set of an upcoming episode of ‘Adam Ruins Everything.’ Photo from Adam Conover

Adam Conover never used to ruin anything. More than one year later, that is exactly what Conover will do every Tuesday during “Adam Ruins Everything,” a new show on truTV.

Conover, a Smithtown native who grew up on the North Shore, hosts the comedy show, which blends comedy, history and science to entertain and enlighten viewers about common misconceptions in society. The show touches upon various topics including giving, security, crime scene investigations, childhood, sex and more.

His first episode covers giving and touches upon the history of engagement rings, why shoe companies that give away free shoes are harmful and the reality of food pantries.

But for Conover, creating a show wasn’t something he just set out to do. Everything simply fell into place.

Once Conover reached middle school and high school, he became more interested in drama and theater. His mother, Stony Brook native Margaret Conover, said she remembers her son being a handful as a child, saying that it was hard to keep him focused on a task. But his Shoreham-Wading River High School’s theater program was one of the few things that grabbed and maintained his attention.

Conover got his first acting break after a teacher selected him for one of the star roles in the school’s production of “The Clumsy Custard Horror Show.”

Conover said his overall experience in his high school’s theater program made an impression on him as it gave him a glimpse into working in a performing arts career.

“I think the biggest thing I took out of it was that … it was like a real theater program. We’re not just kids putting on a show,” Conover said in a phone interview. “We are putting on a real show with a real audience that has expectations and the show has to be good.”

Adam Conover’s father, David Conover of Stony Brook, said he remembers his son being in nearly all school plays when he attended Shoreham-Wading River’s Prodell Middle School and the Shoreham-Wading River High School.

“He became very passionate about certain things. Teachers that he loved in high school, he would do all the work for,” David Conover said in a phone interview. “Drama was one of those things he was focused on doing really, really well.”

Margaret Conover also added that the high school’s program helped her son as “the creativity that was fostered and allowed in [high school] really gave him a wake up.”

Comedy was also pushed to the forefront after Adam Conover begged his parents to upgrade their television subscription to include Comedy Central when he was in middle school. Until then, his mother said she wasn’t aware of his interest in comedy.

As a child, Adam Conover always loved learning. He remembered watching science programs like “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” among other programs that fostered his love for acquiring information. Science played a big role in his childhood as his mother and father work in science-based fields and have their Ph.D.s in botany and marine biology, respectively. His younger sister Emily also has her Ph.D. in nuclear physics.

A career in comedy was never the first thing that came to mind for his family. Regardless, his parents were supportive of his dreams even after he quit a web development job to pursue a full-time career in comedy in 2006.

Conover left his job and rejoined friends from his Bard College days — the same group he was with in the early 2000s when Olde English, their sketch comedy, was established. The change left Conover’s parents concerned for their son’s well-being but supportive nonetheless.

“We were concerned about whether or not that was a good way of making a living, but we didn’t attempt to dissuade him from doing so,” his father said. “We always believed that people should follow their passion and if you do oftentimes the rest of everything else works out.”

According to the father, Adam Conover’s work with his sketch comedy group helped him land a job as a staff writer and cast member of CollegeHumor Originals in 2012. And Jon Cohen, one of the “Adam Ruins Everything” producers, said the show was initially released as a web series and received positive feedback from viewers, which encouraged Cohen, Conover and Sam Reich, another executive producer, to produce and pitch the show to television networks.

TruTV picked up the 12 half-hour episodes of the show last October. Cohen said he realized they would work to produce the show after Conover informed him that the coconut water Cohen was drinking was not very healthy.

“He’s obviously playing a heightened version of himself,” Cohen said in a phone interview about Conover. “He truly believes and is passionate about all of the information he has and he just wants to share it with people, not because he wants to be a know-it-all but just because he wants people to know the truth and that’s what’s going to be great about this show.”

“Adam Ruins Everything” will debut on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 10 p.m. on truTV.

While his family never thought Conover would work in the entertainment industry, Margaret, David and Emily Conover agreed that they are proud of Adam and are certainly “not surprised” by his career choice.

“Making this show [was] my life goal, and true mission for me,” Adam Conover said. “This is exactly the kind of comedy I want to do, and is saying things I want to say. I suppose that if I had to think ahead, my goal would be to say those things even more effectively in season two, if we’re lucky enough to get one.”

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